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Films >> Sally Hemings: An American Scandal (2000) >>

1) This story is of a man and a woman, who despite their vast cultural differences, despite the adversity they faced and the secrecy they were forced to maintain, remained devoted to each other. My hope is that the movie will further the dialogue between the races, that the sons and daughters of slaves and the sons and daughters of slave owners will come together and talk honestly about the past -- accept it, learn from it and grow closer together. (Tina Andrews)

2) Haid directs Sally’s character to portray a woman completely in love with Jefferson, someone willing to sacrifice her freedom to be with him. However, Andrews works more to assert that Sally deserves Jefferson’s respect. (Teresa Salvatore, Lehigh University)

3) I believe our class was not the intended audience for this film. Actually, that's an understatement. Anyone who has read and researched what we have would look at this video and go "Uhm . . . really?" By this point in the class, I have already formed an opinion of my own as to what happened between young Sally Hemings and Master Jefferson. And this was not it. (Greg King, Lehigh University)

4) Although the film was fairly successful in its agenda, it was unfortunately directed like a Hollywood chick-flick. (Stephen Rumizen, Lehigh University)

5) My attempt to understand and thus dramatize Thomas Jefferson was not an attempt to debase him, but rather to place him in some mortal context. It would be mythology to assume that because Mr. Jefferson was a white, wealthy, politically positioned aristocrat that he could not be sexually attracted to a woman of color. Whether he was besotted by Sally Hemings or simply took sexual pleasure in her was not so much the issue as the fact that he indeed did sleep with her and had children with her no matter how their sexual arrangement is characterized. (Tina Andrews 6)

6) The image of Jefferson clutching at Sally's skirts while on his knees before her near the fireplace is such a powerful one because it visually reverses the situation and really shows how invested both parties were in one another. This image also strikes me as a great poster image because it depicts Sally Hemings as what she truly was: one of the first pioneers in abolishing slavery. It was a long and hard battle, but no one can deny that she was one of its initial "martyrs." (Ruslana Makarenko, Lehigh University)

7) What also interested me about Andrew's film was the fact that it seemed to supersede just the Jefferson/Hemings relationship at times. I feel like it was occasionally intended to be a representation of elements of slave life at large. For instance, the character of Henry and his passionate hatred for slavery was, I think, realistic of the fact that not all slaves led such relatively comfortable or content lives as many of those on the Monticello plantation. Similarly, the scene with Sally being beat seems to exist to remind viewers of the horrors of slavery -- it wasn't all romance and fancy dresses. Given that there is no evidence that either of these events actually happened in Sally or Jefferson's life, I think Andrews employs them creatively to advance her own film-maker's desires. (Mary O'Reilly, Lehigh University)

8) The director presents Jefferson and Sally in various shades of light and shadow, especially on close shots. Often, the light glows around them and their features are barely discernible. Several shots portray them mouth-to-mouth with a fiery light between their faces, a light that seems to blind the viewer, not the lovers. I wonder what Haid wants us to think watching the light dancing about their faces sometimes veiling them and sometimes illuminating them. Is the window into their world so full of controversy that he wants that lighting to distract us at times? Are the little spaces of light a truth revealed only to those willing to risk darkness? (Teresa Salvatore, Lehigh University)

9) The man who penned "all men are created equal" owned slaves? Had an affair with Sally Hemings? Was too embarrassed to unveil his secret? His family too ashamed to leave any trace of the romance? (Adam Kaufman, Lehigh University)

10) Can we deny Sally Hemings her right to a private life without representing her as a passive victim? Whether she was slave or free, she had her own private passions. Did she use Jefferson for personal gain? For the freedom of her children? For protection? Or did she in fact find in him a kindred spirit longing to simply love and be loved in return? So many of us place entirely too much politics behind the simplicity of genuine affection. (Tina Andrews 6)

11) I could not have disliked this movie more and honestly found many parts of it to be offensive. For example, the first sex scene between Jefferson and Hemings is so completely unrealistic. He walks in and somehow she is completely aware of what he desires. She walks over to the bench and takes off her nightgown as she moves. What girl, 14-15 year old girl, is that comfortable with her sexuality? This keeps in line with the racial stereotype that black people are hyper-sexualized beings. It surprises me that a black woman wrote the film after watching this scene. There are ways of constructing their first time that conveys both parties enjoyed it without a young virgin somehow giving that “come hither stare.” (Morgan Christopher, Lehigh University)

12) The power Sally held as a slave was extraordinary. In contrast to the power Sally held, it was interesting, that her children, who were depicted as very much white, held almost no power. This was extremely striking with the contrast between Sally and her daughter Harriet. When Sally wore the lilac dress in Paris, she was treated fairly. But when Harriet wore the dress and then tried to pass as nobility, she was dismissed, despite the paleness of her skin which should have given her the upper hand. (Haydn Galloway, Lehigh University)

13) Before this film I had an idealistic image of Thomas Jefferson. What I knew about him is that he was strongly against slavery, married to his slave, had children, and treated his slaves in a respectful way. What I saw in this movie, however, was different: what is left in my mind after this film about Jefferson and slavery is "Not enough," -- meaning he didn't try hard enough to change the situation, he didn't love Sally enough to make her his wife, he didn't care about his children enough to make them free. I'm not sure if is true historically, but this film gave me the image of Jefferson as a man who knows how to speak but lacks strength and courage to implement his words in life. There was this amazing scene where the director alternated shots of Sally suffering after being severely beaten and Jefferson signing the papers for the Louisiana Purchase. It was a key scene for me that defined Jefferson's attitude towards slavery: he was against it, but not enough to really challenge the society in which he lived. (Olga Zhakova, Lehigh University)

14) This movie's take on Thomas Jefferson is epitomized by multiple scenes in which he returns from a long journey to be greeted by his many slaves. It seems as though everyone has gathered out of sheer joy and love for Jefferson, cheering and applauding as though he has returned with some great gift for them. I doubt their reaction would have been much different had he returned and announced he was freeing them all. Although he treats the slaves with manners comparable to those he shows to his acquaintances of like standing, he always maintains a conscious detachment from them. This is evident in the scene in which Sally's mother shows Jefferson the quilt she made of their family (on which is Jefferson, the father of two of Sally's children at the time the quilt was made). Jefferson gives the quilt's maker a passing nod as he leads the children away to show them his latest invention. The next shot hovers above Jefferson, who is sitting in his swivel chair. The camera is angled straight downward as a group of slave children skip as they spin the chair around. These scenes of Jefferson as a sort of revered benefactor sharply contrast his detachment from facing the real issue of slavery. (Courtney Brown, Lehigh University)

15) Historians agree Jefferson was a man pained by his guilty conscience, owing to his participation in slavery and simultaneous objection to the practice. He truly believed in universal liberty. Still, a man who's a better father to his country than his own children loses a lot of credibility. I would rather be imprisoned for debt than sell slaves that I have for so long treated as equals, only to throw them back into bowels of forced servitude. Although in reality Jefferson did not live to see his slaves sold and worked until his death to pay off his debt so they could be freed, it was interesting to see the director force the so-called abolitionist to face his guilt, a guilt which he probably dealt internally his entire life. (Adam Kaufman, Lehigh University)

16) I don’t blame Jefferson for not acknowledging Hemings or anything like that. For the time period she was treated much better than most slaves, especially slaves who did interact sexually with their masters (consensually and rape). However, his hypocrisy is what has always held me back from thinking of him in as high a regard as most people. Jefferson was a brilliant, writer, thinker, and visionary -- but also a hypocrite. I’ll ask again the question he refused to answer: how can you write all men are created equal and own slaves? (Morgan Christopher, Lehigh University)

17) In the course of my research, I read [Jefferson's] incendiary Notes on the State of Virginia. . . . The book sent me into a rage from which I would never recover. After reading that tome, I realized the dramatic Sally Hemings had to also read that book somewhere in the screenplay and speak out. She had to become the voice for all of the slaves and freed blacks in America, then and now. She had to express outrage at Jefferson and his racist, divisive view about Blacks and their contribution (or lack of according to him) to American culture. She had to become the voice of the silenced. (Tina Andrews 17)

18) I can walk away from this movie with a general understanding of the situation that the two "lovers" were in. However, we are operating under the assumption that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings were indeed in love. Given the position of authority that Mr. Jefferson had over Ms. Hemings, it is easy to call into question the nature of their relationship. Just because Ms. Hemings had several of his children over a number of years does not mean that their relationship was consensual. (Catherine Willard, Lehigh University)

19) Having little to no knowledge of the Jefferson-Hemings affair, I found this movie rather compelling. Despite this, I have my qualms. It really seems as if the director was favoring a more melodramatic romance and I question how realistic this narrative is (since of course this class focuses on the reel versus the real). Keeping that in mind while watching the movie, I could not help but think of how idealized the characters and the plot seemed to be. Sally was portrayed as a beautiful, smart and sophisticated woman who Jefferson could not help but be attracted to. They fall in love and of course their difference in race keeps them from being together. This entire storyline just seemed oversweet and contrived to some extent. I could not help but think that the plot fell flat when it came down to revealing the truth behind the story. I basically just don't buy into their romance. Her self-assurance and undaunted personality throughout the entire movie just seems false. Sally was regarded as a slave and therefore property at the time. I therefore feel as if Sally's relationship with Jefferson was much more brutal or perhaps forced then we are lead to believe in the film. I have a hard time believing that certain events did or did not happen. For example, I thought it was pretty audacious of Sally to leave Monticello to confront Jefferson in Washington. I also had a hard time believing that Jefferson would only lightly scold one of his slaves for helping others escape from their plantations. (Alexandra Neumann, Lehigh University)

20) Although the film does not gloss over the cruelties and injustices of slavery (particularly in the scenes in which it alludes to the rape of slave women by white men and depicts the hunting for and hanging of rebellious slaves), it does everything it can to dissociate Jefferson from being an active participant in perpetuating the institution of slavery. Although Jefferson owns slaves, he is portrayed as a benevolent master whom his slaves--whom he refers to as "servants"--adore. Far from portraying life in the slave quarters and on the plantation fields of Monticello in a negative way, the film depicts slave life in Monticello in an almost idyllic manner. The Monticello estate is therefore portrayed as a place of serenity and happiness--a place of refuge from the cruelties of the world outside. (Krystal Kaai, Lehigh University)

21) I found this film really intriguing, not only because of the "scandalous" love affair it elucidates, but also because of the agency it grants to an otherwise historically invisible Sally Hemings. The film portrays Sally as a beautiful, intelligent, and loving woman whose awareness of the inequality and injustices of slavery, coupled with her love for a man who inadvertently perpetuates this very system of slavery, places her in a very difficult position. Perhaps even more important than the portrayal of Sally, however, is the portrayal of Jefferson in relation to Sally. I found it interesting to note that Jefferson is never directly faulted as the "bad guy." Instead, he is portrayed as a sympathetic character throughout most of the film. (Krystal Kaai, Lehigh University)

22) It seems as though Hemings was similar to Pocahontas in terms of acting as an invisible agent in history, but whereas Pocahontas has been glorified to some extent, the story of Hemings has been completely dropped from the record until what seems to be recently. (William "Tommy" McNulty)

23) What was most interesting about this film was how flawed Thomas Jefferson was as a man, as portrayed by the film's writer and director. Jefferson, in helping create the Declaration of Independence, stated that he believed that all men were created equal. Yet, he felt unbelievably ashamed to be having physical relations with a black woman. It is ultimately contradictory for a man of Jefferson's stature to not act on his beliefs; Thomas Paine in multiple scenes attempts to illustrate this to Jefferson but with little success. (Zachary Rubin, Lehigh University)

24) Based on this movie's portrayal of Hemings, my ability to regard her as a heroic or strong figure only goes so far. Obviously I respect her for teaching other slaves how to read and write, for her courage to stand up to other white men. However, she chose to put herself in the horrible situations she endured throughout the film, i.e. the lashing scene. Her decision to stay with him after he frees her is a cross between Stockholm Syndrome and the natural attachment most women develop towards the man they lose their virginity to. Why did she stay -- it is not as if she went back with the sole aspiration to liberate her people? Talking about freeing slaves was pillow talk between the two: she yelled, he appeased her, then sex. I don’t doubt that there was possibly substance to their relationship but I didn’t see that. I saw them talking about it a lot without actually seeing it. (Morgan Christopher, Lehigh University)

25) Who was Sally Hemings? After all, if she was the woman who obviously dominated the private life and passions of Thomas Jefferson and kept the American icon and genius for peace interested in her until his death in 1826, then she had to have been an intriguing woman. Thomas Jefferson never remarried and never dated again after his liaison with Sally in Paris. He would keep her close no matter the political consequences. He named their children after friends of his. He was at the brink of losing his second term as president based on the discovery of his relationship with her, and yet he did not sell her. Why? What did she mean to him? How much did she mean to him? (Tina Andrews 17)

26) How did I know this relationship was love? They were together 38 years. During that time, Thomas Jefferson never dated nor saw another woman. (Tina Andrews, qtd in Heisler)

27) [The film is] glamorous, nicely acted, beautifully photographed bunk. . . . There is no point in belaboring the enormous gap here between what is known to be true and what is portrayed. . . . the historical interpretation borders on the egregious. . . .The character of Sally Hemings is written as a kind of politically conscious Cinderella, who makes fiery speeches to her master/lover about the obvious injustices and hypocrisies that proliferate around her. (Megan Rosenfeld)

28) I can't imagine that Sally Hemings loved Thomas Jefferson, or that the man who wrote the declaration of Independence really cared much for the slave with whom it's believed he fathered six children. . . . I don't need the benefit of a scientific inquiry to figure out what brought them together. The odds are pretty good that it was neither love nor romance. . . . To call what happened between them a love story . . . shelters Jefferson from the charge of sexual predator or rapist. To imply that the sex between him and his slave was consensual . . . is a cruelly dishonest portrayal of the dirtiest secret of American slavery. . . . Turning [Jefferson's] secret sexual encounters with a slave into a love story is equivalent of making a purse out of a sow's ear. (DeWayne Wickham)

29) The movie really focused not only on how much Jefferson gave to Sally: her education, her clothes, money, etc. -- but how much Sally gave to Jefferson. (Alexandra Horowitz, Lehigh University)

30) The romantic rendering of Hemings is defined by what we desire her to have done or to have been rather than what she actually did or who she actually was. As such, this romantic discourse deadens consideration of the profound sexual and racial inequities that would have existed between Jefferson and his slave. . . . Far from ennobling memory of Hemings by having her study Common Sense and Notes on Virginia, the conventions of modern romance merely facilitate the latest perversion of her existence. (Bradford Vivian 293)

31) [The film] never lets details interfere with its generic sentimental romance, its simplistic interpretation of one of the most complex, fascinating liaisons in American history. . . . its heavy-handed historical references can't disguise the film's soap-opera soul. (Caryn James)

32) These two people, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings -- a white man and a black woman -- were both victims of the times in which they lived. They were forced to conduct their relationship in a cloistered, clandestine, sometimes tumultuous environment. But for what reason? Why would these two have continued together for 38 years, particularly under some politically untenable circumstances for Jefferson, unless there were some emotional attachment involved? (Tina Andrews 33)

33) If political scandals were ranked on a scale of one to 10, the illicit affair between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings would be a 25. (Kevin Thompson)

34) Despite the hyped-up plot twists that owe more to the requisites of the teleplay than to historical evidence (Sally helping fugitive slaves, Sally being whipped by a vengeful overseer, etc., etc.), this fictionalized portrait of famed and infamous caught in slavery's skin allowed millions of American viewers to ponder, if only for a night or two, the ambivalence slavery created for all Americans and its legacy for us today. (Catherine Clinton)

35) Tina Andrews' attempt to create a smart, strong woman for her Sally Hemings character was a failure. To argue Sally's behavior was a result of love is preposterous—I would more readily believe that she suffered from something along the lines of Stockholm syndrome. Sally's character is selfish to choose servitude for her children and inconsistent with her view of slavery. Andrews had the opportunity to create a great woman because little is known about Sally Hemings in real life -- she is truly a blank canvas as a character. Andrews says she believes that "Mr. Jefferson disappointed Sally Hemings," but Andrews' Hemings certainly disappointed me. (Katy Watters, Lehigh University)

36) The scene at the end of the movie between Jefferson's daughter and Sally after his death really terminated any belief (in my mind) that Sally was fighting for her freedom. In my mind, why would she stay and subject her children to slavery? For a man? Who loves her? My response to that would be, does he really love her? Would a man want his love and his children to be wrapped in an inhumane bondage? I would think not. That disconnect alone really tattered my impression of Sally and of Andrews. This scene damaged any credibility that I felt towards Andrews' interpretation of the life and love of Sally Hemings. At this point, it was apparent that the film would only fulfill entertainment purposes for me -- it became just a romance movie. I didn't leave the movie thinking about the social dynamics Andrews was trying to dramatize. (Jena Viviano, Lehigh University)

37) Who is Tina Andrews to tell me how my hero Thomas Jefferson lived his life? (Jonathan Zubkoff, Lehigh University)

38) The man responsible for writing the foundation of our country did not believe in the very words that were the concrete of the foundation. This is exactly why I think it is great to have writers like Tina Andrews who insert their own beliefs and interpretations into a story that has been told a different way. It is often said that history is written by the victors -- but that does not mean the victors are correct. If writers like Andrews wrote screenplays to the generic version of the story, the viewers to whom the movie aims to educate retain the same biased version they knew before they saw the movie. (Andrew Tye, Lehigh University)

39) The image of Jefferson clutching at Sally's skirts while on his knees before her near the fireplace is such a powerful one because it visually reverses the situation and really shows how invested both parties were in one another. This moment also clearly illustrates Jefferson's personal battle between himself, his country, and the institution of slavery. It brings back the quote from the movie in which, at least somewhere along the lines of this, Jefferson says he wants to change America but can't and merely hopes to be involved in a plan that does. This image also strikes me as a great poster image because it depicts Sally Hemings as what she truly was: one of the first pioneers in abolishing slavery. It was a long and hard battle, but no one can deny that she was one of its initial "martyrs." (Ruslana Makarenko, Lehigh University)

40) Later in the film while Jefferson is President, one of the best moments happens when Sally walks into the dining room with a pitcher of water. This would be my “freeze frame,” as Jefferson is choking on his drink while the others at the table are awkwardly avoiding the obvious situation (except for one guest). The scene is perfect, because it displays the unique situation in the South that made it possible for such relationships to happen. Something that should be well known is never talked about, yet it surrounds the people involved. It also demonstrates the clashing of Jefferson’s two worlds that he never meant to happen. I thought it was interesting how the camera stayed on Sally for most of the time, never relenting in her resenting stare. (Steve Rumizen, Lehigh University)

41) Regardless of the historical inaccuracies, I did like how Sally was depicted as having some power in the relationship, and as a strong woman. When the Callendar scandal was going on, I loved how she said to Jefferson that their oldest son, Tom, was "leaving, and I am allowing it, and you will not stop him." I also liked how the series addressed Jefferson's racist writings in "Notes on the State of Virginia," and how Sally used that against him. I found it interesting that he said that he wrote it some years ago and no longer felt that way, when it was in his younger years that he so heavily pursued the emancipation of slaves. (Samantha Feinberg, Lehigh University)

42) [In Sally Hemings: An American Scandal] Sally Hemings is attributed with historical agency and can be a solver of moral problems; she is granted an aesthetic freedom that speaks directly to the limitations of American democracy and its avoidance of moral responsibility in creating racial aliens instead of citizens of the republic. (Sharon Monteith 41)

43) The DVD cover in particular sums up this film’s shortcomings. By depicting Jefferson in a, if not positive, then at least neutral light, it fails to explore what seems to be the central issue of Jefferson's hypocritical and potentially malevolent treatment of this one particular slave of his. I much preferred Nolte's Jefferson. (Eric Edgerton, Lehigh University)

44) Part of me wants to believe that this Sally Hemings was an accurate portrayal of the real mistress of Monticello, and yet there is another, larger, part of me that understands the agenda that underlies the script. Andrews, admittedly, seemed to want to see Sally as a powerful, well-educated slave and as someone that the rest of the slaves looked up to for guidance. When we first started working on this project I genuinely was under the impression that this was the case. If this is true though, then why did Sally magically disappear into the woodwork and fall far enough from the public eye so as not to be remembered until elements of the liaison were rehashed with a civil rights agenda. (Samantha Christal, Lehigh University)

45) Overall, the term “stunning mulatto” stuck with me throughout my viewing of the film. Thomas Paine calls Sally this name when they are in Paris. The portrayal of Sally could be summed up with this nickname—Sally is truly beautiful, intelligent, and wonderful in the film. Although I was skeptical while watching, I could not help but to be transfixed on Sally’s strong presence and happiness, despite her situation and the struggles she endures. This spirit is truly stunning. (Kimbrilee Weber, Lehigh University)

46) I definitely found myself preferring this representation of Sally and Jefferson's relationship far more than the one we see in "Jefferson in Paris." While I think parts of it were definitely unrealistic, I appreciated Andrew's attempt to depict their entire relationship -- not just the scandalous and sexual beginnings seen in Paris. What I found most interesting about this representation of the film is that Andrews really depicts a sort of companionship and friendship between Hemings and Jefferson. While there are obvious moments of passion in both a sexual and emotional sense, I feel like this representation is one of few that actually looks past the simple fact that the two were lovers. The trouble with this, however, is that it also becomes quickly fictitious. Since we know nothing of their relationship beyond the fact that they slept together, all matters concerning their dynamic or their arguments or their happiness are complete conjecture. While I found seeing it all acted out until the very end of their relationship gratifying, I also had to keep reminding myself that there was no certainty that this was really the way their relationship was. I feel like part of me is waiting for a revelation of tangible proof revealing the nature of their relationship much like we've been granted tangible proof about the sheer existence of their relationship. (Mary O'Reilly, Lehigh University)

47) I was really surprised when watching this video. Yes, I fully expected to see a more empowered version of the Sally we’ve come accustomed to; however, the Sally we were presented with in the film is in my opinion unrealistic. Sally dances with Thomas Paine in France, she has a lively discussion with Jefferson about the Declaration of Independence, and she confronts Jefferson about some of his more controversial writings. Putting aside the fact that Sally’s actual knowledge of these documents was stretched, I think it is pretty safe to say the amount of control Sally had in these situations was also exaggerated. I don’t think Sally would’ve randomly interviewed Jefferson on his views on slavery when they were alone. It is one thing to somehow demonstrate that Sally was thinking about these issues, because I don’t disagree that she potentially could’ve been having some of these thoughts, but the way that she takes the lead in pursuing answers is a whole different story. (Kimbrilee Weber, Lehigh University)

48) Sally in Jefferson in Paris seems slightly absurd and outspoken, but the film does a nice job of reminding us of how young Sally was when her relationship with TJ started. I consistently was reminding myself that Sally was quite possibly not the mature adult that seems to be pictured in Tina Andrews' version. I remember watching this film last year and asking myself, "Wait a second, how old was she when this affair began again...?" Perhaps the one scene that troubles me the most is Sally's excursion to the White House to argue on behalf of herself for her freedom. The film does a nice job of showing us how well educated Sally has become, but this seems a bit over the top in my opinion. It just does not seem plausible that a slave would first risk the dangers of traveling away from home, let alone take the initiative to travel all that way to chastise and question her master. Despite how I feel about this, she does have quite the surprising and entertaining entrance. Her sense of agency is endearing but not realistic. Then again, we are supposed to buy into the fact that they had a loving relationship, right? However, I did enjoy watching this film more than Jefferson in Paris however. I found myself wanting to believe in the romantic relationship between the two characters. But then I remind myself that these are characters, playing a role in a film being directed by someone with an agenda. (Alexandra Neumann, Lehigh University)

49) Tess said the film is a collective effort to have both blacks and whites see people, not color. I agree up to a point, but I think that for Andrews and the creators of this film, color is integral. Since historical accuracy was clearly not a primary value, the sociopolitical agenda takes center stage. The film is an effort to claim and assert Sally’s intrepidity, her willingness to risk in the cause of freedom, her superiority in intellect, in beauty, and in the heart of the Great Jefferson over the wicked step-sister, Martha, as a way of changing how African-Americans’ place in this part of our history is viewed. If we do not see the colors, then the sociopolitical agenda quickly gets lost. (Stephen Molloy, Lehigh University)

50) I do think parts of this depiction were potentially realistic. I think the powerful hold Sally had over Jefferson was not entirely impossible. Considering that he obviously had powerful and lasting feelings for her to be in such a long relationship, I do think she would have had some sway over both his actions (or at least emotions) as well as the household. But I do think this is at times at least a little exaggerated. For example, she often times not only sees herself as being equal to Martha, but actually superior. I feel like this would be an unlikely dynamic between the two, if only because of Sally's perilous position in the social strata of the time. (Mary O'Reilly, Lehigh University)

51) This love story [Sally Hemings: An American Scandal] works as an allegory of America that shows how intimately democracy and political equality have been intertwined with slavery and citizenship. (Sharon Monteith 35)

52) I was astonished by the flamboyant portrayal of Sally and TJ's relationship. Not only is their relationship in the open, but Sally has an extremely bold attitude whenever she is confronted about it. I felt that she was not portrayed as a child but as a confident and powerful mistress. The part that was specifically shocking was when Sally ventured to Washington to speak to Jefferson about her poor treatment at Monticello. I would imagine a slave would not dare travel to Washington to find Jefferson and complain about how she was being treated. But Sally not only does this, she defiantly confronts Martha and backhandedly threatens her with Callender's business card. Also, I feel the director took so many liberties with the plot to make the series more exciting. The voodoo-type scene was so out of place and unbelievable. I felt this way about many of the dramatic parts. Her scene when she was naked and tied up only made me dislike the movie, and I felt that the truth was so exaggerated that I found myself not taking the plot seriously. (Caroline Nype, Lehigh University)

53) This mini-series was a nice contrast to Jefferson in Paris. I appreciated the larger scope of the plot, which gave the characters plenty of time to develop in a seemingly natural way. It was also nice to have a less-creepy Jefferson played by Sam Neil (who isn't even American, according to the reviews), not to mention a more mature Sally as opposed to the incredibly childish one. Her maturity and high-intellect supported the reasons for her being chosen to go to Paris, which was illustrated very well, as was the point that Sally and Jefferson had plenty of time to spend together while there, especially once the girls went to boarding school. Though Sally was the seducer, the scene in this film was far more believable than Jefferson in Paris. Perhaps it was because Sally seemed less like a child. Regardless, one of the reviews on Reel American History pointed out that Sally fell into the category of "smart woman, foolish choices." I thought this hit it right on the head. Sure, she was smart. But she was also incredibly foolish. Then again, if she were in love, maybe this is believable. If she wasn't and there was no romance, then she was more likely abused and raped and had no choices whatsoever. (Kristen Dalton, Lehigh University)

54) When comparing this movie with Jefferson in Paris, I would say that the director made a great deal of assumptions about the relationship. Not only does the movie portray Sally in a romantic relationship with a slave, it also assumes many of Sally's personality traits and the relationship she had with Jefferson. Although I don't necessarily think that it portrays a completely valid view of their relationship, I can't help but realize that the two movies that we have seen are what really gives the story life to me. Regardless of whether or not the story is accurate, it helps me give Sally more of a voice. She shows great strength in this film and it allowed me to see what kind of issues she probably faced while trying to be a slave in this relationship with her master. What I also thought was interesting in the movie was the contrast between Sally's relationship with Jefferson and that of the relationship that Sally's sister has with the white man. It really makes the Jefferson Hemings relationship seem the opposite of rape and really a loving relationship. Sally would never forcibly make herself unable to have children, and she never is raped or in a situation in which she is really taken advantage of when with Jefferson. I thought that really made the relationship seem so much more romantic. I really am glad we got to see this view of the relationship. (Abigail Harris-Shea, Lehigh University)

55) Despite the artistic liberties that make this historically pretty inaccurate, the portrayal of the raw relationship between Hemings and Jefferson is believable. There are moments in which though she does seem to have power, he asserts that he owns her and that she belongs to him. This definitely makes it more realistic to me, and kind of how I pictured the whole thing between them happening. It also helped me to think it was possible that they could have had a sexual and romantic relationship that Andrews added, in the beginning, that Sally was already involved with someone else, so it helped me view her as being more mature. (Samantha Feinberg, Lehigh University)

56) First was the portrayal of Sally Hemings. I thought this version of Sally was more realistic, because not only did she understand her place as a slave, but was motivated by her family and her studies rather than youthful lust. I appreciated how Sally aged and changed during the film, and how she developed an attitude towards slavery founded by her education and the materials she was able to read because of it. (Sarah Freeman, Lehigh University)

57) Anything is possible – but this? Really? Andrews did a good job shying away from the political complications of the third president in order to put more of a focus onto the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings. I really appreciate that. She crafted this romantic fantasy with a historical setting in attempt to empower Sally and highlight the strengths of the African-American woman. I'm all about feminism and giving power to women. I completely support the movie’s purpose but the product is no reflection of its intention. What struck me the most was the development of their relationship – first intellectual, then physical. Jefferson and Sally’s physical affection comes after both connect on an intellectual level. This is set up to refute critics’ opinions that the Jefferson and Hemings’ relationship was based on physical attraction alone, much in the way that Chase-Riboud also handles their first physical interactions. Jefferson dismisses the slave-master relationship within their first interaction and acknowledges her intelligence by the second, confiding in her and admitting that she has “a mind worth mentoring.” By the third interaction he is caught admiring her beauty, but it is the fourth and fifth meeting that are the most striking. It is at this point that Sally questions the basis of the Declaration of Independence, when she quotes Jefferson’s words: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident: that all Men are created equal”. Sally questions if a slave is not a person and Jefferson the blunderer shuffles away. Really? What strikes me as unusual, however, is the fact that I really appreciate the liberties taken in Chase-Riboud's novel -- but Andrews account really irritates me. I'm still trying to put a finger on why that is. If only there could be a balance between the previous film and this one, I'd be set. (Stephanie DeLuca, Lehigh University)

58) The ethos of DNA tests thus lent a factual status to the entire miniseries, including the lush and tragic romance between Jefferson and Hemings. Ostensibly certified by the authority of science, Sally Hemings: An American Scandal represents the boldest articulation yet of a sympathetic portrait of Hemings in public memory. (Bradford Vivian 291)

59) I very much appreciated Andrews’ decision to include Henry in this version of the Jefferson-Hemings story. Granted, we have very little if any proof that Sally would have had a relationship with another man, however, I believe that his inclusion is noteworthy. To me, Henry embodied everything that Sally's life should have been had she not been caught in the web of Jefferson. It is quite realistic that she and Henry had feelings for each other prior to her moving to Paris, and it is not unreasonable for Andrews to claim that Henry was so “blindly devoted” to Sally. In fact, I don’t believe that it was blind devotion. I feel that Henry fell in love with the Sally that existed before the fine experiences of France. Whereas TJ didn’t fall for her until he began “mentoring” her (presuming, as Andrews does, that he was actually in love with her), Henry was attracted to the simple, slave woman that Sally was before her expedition. Further, I believe that Henry wanted desperately to “save” Sally from the white society into which she was seemingly falling. I do not think his desire to hold her within the slave community was out of jealousy, per say. In other words, I don’t think he wanted to take her from Jefferson so that she could continue to suffer like the rest of her slave community. I think his intentions were to save her from being roped into a potentially manipulative master-slave relationship. Obviously, Andrews’ objective was to portray a loving, passionate relationship between Sally and Tom, so it’s possible that she included Henry to address the other side of the argument. Sally’s resistance to him proves that her heart was Jefferson’s and other suitors did not catch her eye. This gives weight to the idea that Sally was in love with TJ. Lastly, and the most important reason for me liking the character of Henry, was that he allowed me to imagine a scenario in which Sally did actually have feelings for another man other than Jefferson. Now, her relationship with a slave man would have been much less refined and lacking in the finer things that her relations with Jefferson provided, still, it can be argued that a connection with a black slave man would have been, quite frankly, easier and thus, more appealing to Sally. What if Sally was actually in love with Henry, yet bearing the child of her white master? That is not to say that her relations with Jefferson were forced, but what if, upon arriving back at Monticello, Sally remembered that she was once again a bound woman and regretted her decision to sleep with Jefferson? Could it have been that Sally felt a stronger connection to Henry but was stuck with TJ because of her children? Andrews portrayed Sally having very little romantic interest in Henry, so all of this is just my imagination, but this apparent love triangle is extremely fascinating to me. (Erica Prosser, Lehigh University)

60) A popular sentiment among viewers is that the relationship between TJ and Sally was certainly romanticized and exaggerated. And so, while it's interesting to see a depiction of this relationship in a bolder sense than any other portrayal, the fact that it is indeed SO bold is perhaps a disservice to the overall message that the director was trying to convey. Could their relationship have been as mutually romantic? Perhaps, but the fact that it is enacted in such an extreme way as is done here actually has an adverse effect on that message. After watching this, viewers may be more inclined to simply dismiss altogether the idea of a mutually romantic relationship because of the extreme extent to which it is suggested in the film. So in a sense, this progressive attempt to shed light on a new element of their relationship may in effect be a step backwards. (Brian Cohen, Lehigh University)

61) I have to admit that I truly enjoyed this movie. The romance, the drama, the forbidden love . . . this adds up to make a pretty awesome three-hour segment. That being said, I have to admit that the truth was exaggerated. What strikes me, however, is the desire to portray this as a "true story." Even the box declares this is factual, and I think people could be easily deceived into buying the entire plot and taking it as fact. So, while I enjoyed the movie at face-value, I would not consider it a means to base the relationship on (although I wish I could). A part of the movie I thought was factual was the portrayal of Sally being right in the middle of multiple scenarios. In a dichotomous environment (white-black, slave-free, educated-uneducated, single-in a relationship), Sally blurs all these lines. She's black, but she can appear white. She's a slave, but her family is accused of tending the home while other slaves do the rougher work. She receives some sort of education in France, although contrary to the movie, I don't believe it would be enough to teach others to read and write. She sleeps with Jefferson, but she can never sit at a table with him or be with him publicly. Sally is in this middle ground, and I think the movie depicted how lonely and scary that place can be. (Elizabeth Guzzo, Lehigh University)

62) Thomas Jefferson still stuck me as a creepy old man, but that is likely due to the nature of the relationship not the actor himself. I wish that Jefferson had been more consistent of his views; he seems to have conflicting opinions at times about slavery and his relationship with Sally. I thought Martha was the most annoying character in the film. All the poor girl did was cry, and I would expect more from a girl raised by an influential and educated family. (Sarah Freeman, Lehigh University)

63) Andrews succeeded greatly in making Sally Hemings and the slave characters the strongest in the film. I doubt that their relationship panned out exactly like that, but, who knows, maybe their love could have been that real and, most importantly on Sally's part, that forgiving. The movie itself is very romanticized and really portrays Sally as a woman on the same level intellectually and physically as her white female aristocratic counterparts except for the color of her skin. The movie itself was entertaining to watch and what Andrews really got across to me is the message that the relationship between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson shouldn't always be cast in a negative light but that it could also be an example that, no matter what one race thinks it has the power to dictate, in love we are all equals. This movie illustrated how love has no boundaries and how the love (not status or relationship) between Hemings and Jefferson walked alongside his words of declaration. Mostly, for me, it illustrated how the hypocrisy of Jefferson's actions is not what America was built upon but, rather, the very integration of everything they were separately is what America has been built towards. This movie strongly portrayed Hemings as the “silent catalyst” for the cause of freedom and really highlights the positives rather than the negatives of their relationship. (Ruslana Makarenko, Lehigh University)

64) She was just an invisible person, but she must have been a remarkable woman to capture such a genius as Thomas Jefferson and have his devotion for 38.years. It is so wonderful that people will now learn who she was. (Hemings descendant Julia Westerinen, qtd. in “Connecting the Dots”)

65) Tina Andrews’ miniseries strives to bring Sally to life and, by doing so, raise the African-American awareness in the Jefferson-Hemings controversy. The first two hours present an articulate, intelligent, spunky, fearless, and gorgeous young woman that both black and white men cannot ignore. Andrews’ desire to portray a complicated, evolving character resonates throughout her story. Her objective is to present intelligence, passion, and compassion beautifully wrapped in black skin, thus coaxing viewers and, perhaps, society that that portrayal is genuine, palpable, and attainable. Sally has goals, makes decisions, and acts on those decisions in order to fulfill her goals. For example, Sally possesses the confidence and intelligence to argue with Jefferson about slavery, quoting and using his words against him. Jefferson’s character is keenly aware of her ability to be his equal, and yet he chooses to keep her in a subservient existence. The tension that Andrews’ creates for both white and black viewers impels us to look inward and then outward. Do we carry baggage that might be Jefferson’s or Hemings’? Risking her own freedom and life, the intrepid Sally teaches her fellow slaves to read and write, helps them escape to freedom, and presents herself as a formidable opponent to Martha, whose desire to embody the steadfast matriarch of the Jefferson legacy can drive a wedge between Sally and Jefferson. As we have found no evidence to support these choices, I can only say that they are a collective effort on Andrews’ part to have both blacks and whites see people, not color. It works. Combine that with her ability to slap us with the cruel realities of slavery, and we sting with a consciousness that really makes us uncomfortable. Again, Andrews’ purpose, and it does sting like a whip. Haid directs Sally’s character to portray a woman completely in love with Jefferson, someone willing to sacrifice her freedom to be with him. However, Andrews works more to assert that Sally deserves Jefferson’s respect – that elusive recognition that plagued James Hemings his entire life. (Teresa Salvatore, Lehigh University)

66) The very making of this miniseries is in and of itself an interesting examination of modern-day race relations. Here we have a black woman, Andrews, attempting to recreate on screen the inter-racial relationship of one of this nation's most revered politicians. Against her were the much-discussed Jefferson scholars, the old guard of experts, who were and are vehemently opposed to this story seeing the light of day. For fifteen years Andrews had to fight with mostly white male television executives in an attempt to win the right to produce her work. The craziest part of this is that each and every executive inevitably said no, until, that is, they returned hats in hand after the DNA test of 1998, at which point they all wanted a shot at producing this miniseries. To me this is decisive evidence that many older white gentlemen in positions of power in this country still want nothing to do with black women (especially not when the reputation of another old white male is concerned), unless they might be able to use them to turn a profit. I found the film itself to be far less compelling than Jefferson in Paris. I believe this stems primarily from the fact that Jefferson in Paris is an actual film rather than a made-for-TV production. The production value of JIP was vastly superior to that of SHAS, as was the directing. JIP stays true to its goal of portraying Hemings in a positive light without sacrificing its ability to incorporate more complex motifs into its runtime. SHAS also lost points with me for its rather timid portrayal of Jefferson. JIP was at least bold enough to step out there and portray him in a severely negative light (which, given what we know about their relationship, makes a good deal of sense for a movie focusing on said relationship). (Eric Edgerton, Lehigh University)

67) I found the portrayal of the beginnings of Jefferson and Sally’s relationship to be quite intriguing. Jefferson seems to treat Sally as a child at this moment: she seems fearful of him, he calls her “child,” and he attempts to be teaching her like a child when he asks, “Do you know what a mentor is?” This question was interesting because it also seemed to foreshadow the intellectual “mentorship” that Jefferson participates in through teaching Sally. This first interaction shows that this will probably happen. Further, I found Jefferson’s quote “You look exactly like my wife. The resemblance is uncanny,” to be quite intriguing. I think this quote, as in the previous quote, serves to foreshadow what is likely to happen later on. Obviously, we are to assume Jefferson found his wife attractive, which allows the deduction of the fact that Jefferson is effectively admitting to finding Sally attractive. The roundabout way he must take this approach could be symbolic of the fact that he had to take roundabout ways on many things in life (such as his views on slavery). (Kimbrilee Weber, Lehigh University)

68) You read between the lines. . . . It was a longstanding relationship. That was not 38 years of a man raping a woman. (Tina Andrews, qtd. in DeNeen L. Brown)

69) It is clear that Sally Hemings is an audacious and controversial figure as deployed across a range of cultural productions, not least when her presence serves to point up the glaring contradictions that made this “First Lady” an alien in America—a non-citizen in the Republic. (Sharon Monteith 33)

70) When Sally first arrives in France, Jefferson shoots her a look across the room when she first enters, and while this is a minor moment in the movie, it speaks volumes. The director chose to cast a certain shadow across Jefferson at this moment despite his being in a very well lit room. That isn't to say that there was a huge amount of shadow going on, but I do think he played with the light and dark to show the beginning of the relationship. In Jefferson's eyes in this scene there is both a look of recognition as well as a hint of lust or some sort of desire. It is hard to tell exactly what he is thinking until he begins to reminisce with Sally about the last time he saw her at such a young age. I think this is partially a cover to mask the desire he first felt when he saw her. Something forbidden but also strangely familiar and comfortable. I think his first reaction to her is the ultimate first look that he could have given, and the actor really nailed it in this scene. The first combination of intrigue and desire floats into the situation, but it is also strangely innocent. There is lust and desire, but there is no question there is true feeling behind his eyes despite the fact that he has not really gotten to know her yet. To me the first look gives away so much. Now that could be because I know how the situation plays out since we have basically been studying that since May, but I still see this look as shadowing the relationship that was to come. The look continues to pop up throughout the movie, and the lustful looks develop as the relationship develops, and the look itself begins to grow. His eyes give away a lot in the beginning of this story. (Alexandra Horowitz, Lehigh University)

71) Look at Martha burning Sally’s letters from TJ. Sally makes a move to the fireplace, and Martha restrains her. Martha is behind Sally and is holding her arms back as they both stare into the fire. The image struck me as emblematic of the “official” family’s attempts to erase any mention of a Jefferson/Hemings affair while Sally herself is restrained and powerless to prevent her most cherished memories from incineration. Martha is angry, bitter, and resentful of Sally’s place in her family and jealous that she must share her father, both in life and in history, with Hemings. Sally herself is watching her claim on history, and hence her identity and the tangible memory of her, go up in smoke. Considering the state of both race and gender roles in their society, that these two women are pitted against each other is deeply ironic. (Stephen Molloy, Lehigh University)

72) If the vision of Jefferson and Hemings as tragic lovers satisfies a contemporary desire to humanize and cleanse the memory of Jefferson, then this same romantic discourse also facilitates a reciprocal desire to rescue Hemings from historical caricature and racist stereotype. (Bradford Vivian 290)

73) Overall, I really enjoyed this version of the story. I appreciated the power Andrews gave Sally and felt that she portrayed Sally in a legitimate, believable way. It felt as if this Sally was more along the lines of Fawn Brodie's idea of Sally. My approval of this story may partially stem from my desire to see this as a love story with an empowered woman capable of challenging Jefferson rather than acting like an ignorant, submissive slave, but something Andrews said in her interview also caught my attention. She said that, based on accounts saying that Jefferson tutored Sally alongside his children, she was exposed and taught by his intellectual methods. Some of this must have rubbed off on her, enabling her to challenge him in the ways she does in the movie. Another thing that caught my attention during the movie was Sally's conversation with Mrs. Madison in Washington, where Mrs. Madison describes them as equals, sharing the same restrictions and lack of power as women, regardless of their color. Despite their limitations, both Mrs. Madison and Sally still find ways to exercise power and act in representation of their beliefs. Though Sally is silent through historical record and documentation, that doesn't mean she was silent behind the closed doors of Monticello. I find it hard to believe that, as a Monticello house slave who was constantly in the company of important, influential people, Sally was completely unaware of Jefferson's political positions and writing pieces. It is completely plausible that, as Andrews says in her interview, she suffers an internal struggle between her love for Jefferson and her desire to see the abolishment of slavery. This smart, savvy, influential Sally is compelling and believable to me. (Katherine Prosswimmer, Lehigh University)

74) For Andrews to make her film speak to the hypocrisies of Jefferson and the injustices of slavery, shouldn’t Sally be just a bit more ordinary? By turning it into Cinderella, I’m not sure anyone’s interests are really served. (Stephen Molloy, Lehigh University)

75) I can't talk about that film without getting really, really frustrated . . . but I finally figured out why I dislike it so much. I would have MUCH preferred that Andrews allowed the racial commentary to come from the romance between TJ and SH alone. Let their love do the talking. Let their love break the racial boundaries. Jabs and the atristic liberties she took were not necessary. GRRRR! Also - she said she wanted Sally to be the voice of 1000s of slaves. SH was so priveleged. How is that being fair to the thousands upon thousands of slave who were not as lucky as SH? GRRRRR! (Stephanie DeLuca, Lehigh University)