When Sofia Coppola decided to write a screenplay and direct a remake of The Beguiled, critics were quick to point out that she chose not to include an African American character, a slave named Mattie, who was featured in both the 1971 film and Thomas Cullinan’s original book — especially since the setting is in the Confederate South. While Coppola previously explained in an interview with Buzzfeed that it was a conscious decision to focus more on gender dynamics than racial ones, she’s now released a statement to IndieWire to clarify her thought process a little more. “In his 1966 novel, Thomas Cullinan made the choice to include a slave, Mattie, as a side-character. He wrote in his idea of Mattie’s voice, and she is the only one who doesn’t speak proper English — her voice is not even grammatically transcribed,” Coppola said. “I did not want to perpetuate an objectionable stereotype where facts and history supported my choice of setting the story of these white women in complete isolation, after the slaves had escaped. Moreover, I felt that to treat slavery as a side-plot would be insulting.” Coppola continued to explain why she believed including Mattie would’ve been disrespectful:
There are many examples of how slaves have been appropriated and “given a voice” by white artists. Rather than an act of denial, my decision of not including Mattie in the film comes from respect.
Some have said that it is not responsible to make a film set during the Civil War and not deal directly with slavery and feature slave characters. I did not think so in preparing this film, but have been thinking about this and will continue to do so. But it has been disheartening to hear my artistic choices, grounded in historical facts, being characterized as insensitive when my intention was the opposite.
The Beguiled is now in theaters and performing decently at the box office.