Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

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

Print Resources

Andrews, Tina. Sally Hemings, An American Scandal: The Struggle to Tell the Controversial True Story. New York: Malibu Press, 2001.
A step-by-step look into the creation of the film by the writer herself. It almost was not made because companies did not know if the public would believe it; DNA results came out and gave Andrews a chance to air her screenplay. She composed many drafts. Originally there was not enough detail about Martha Jefferson (Jefferson's wife) and Sally's familial relationship and not enough action in the final sequence. Andrews's changes included creating a quilt to describe the Hemings/ Wayles relation and adding the scene in which Sally is whipped. She agreed to these changes but was angry about alterations to other scenes. She did not want Sally to initiate the sexual relationship; it reinforces a promiscuous black woman. Sally was only fifteen, and Andrews wanted an innocent depiction. She also felt Harriet should have been more dramatic about her desire to be white. Andrews thinks the movie downplayed the race card that was so important to the film. The Hemings descendants had a huge part in the movie. They gave oral history, saw the film being made, and went to the premiere. Their support helped Andrews through the difficult journey of making the film.
Bolam, Sarah, and Thomas J. Bolam. The Presidents on Film. Jefferson: MacFarland, 2007.
This book is a filmography of 407 films that feature an American President as a character. Each film mentioned contains a plot summary and the credits for the film, as well as a discussion of the President that is featured. The book goes in chronological order of Presidents from George Washington on through George W. Bush, considering each of the films that feature that president with a short description of their administration and commentary on the overall nature and message of the films. The authors make comments based on the historical accuracy of the films, mentioning both when the films make mistakes and when they do a particularly good job getting it right. Lincoln has the most appearances in films, with 123, while Tyler, Buchanan, and Harding each appear in zero films. A good resource for information on Presidents in film.
Brown, DeNeen L. "Labor of Love; 'Sally Hemings' Writer Adds Romance to the History." Washington Post 12 February 2000: C01.
Brown interviews writer Tina Andrews. Since youth, Andrews has seen the unjust side of racism. Andrews was kicked out of a diner for sharing a milkshake with a fellow dancer who happened to be white. Andrews was fired as an actress for sharing an on-screen kiss with a white man. With this movie, she hopes that people might think differently about the lines created by race. Black blood. White blood. White people walking around thinking they are white, until they find out that somewhere way back when, one of the good relatives was black. Black people walking around thinking black power, suffering all the slights of society, when they have white blood in their veins. Race doesn't matter. There is no pure race. This is what Tina Andrews's movie argues.
Chase-Riboud, Barbara. Sally Hemings: A Novel. New York: Viking, 1979.
An enormously popular novel that looks at the Jefferson-Hemings relationship from Sally's view as a first-person narrator. The Sally in this novel is intelligent, mature -- someone to command Jefferson's love and commitment. This film is consistent with and builds on Chase-Riboud's characterization of Sally, which is quite different than characterization of her in the earlier Jefferson in Paris film.
Dacey-Groth, Camilla Elisabeth. "Slaves of Fiction: Coming to Terms with the American Holocaust through Representations of Slavery in Post-Civil Rights Fiction and Film." Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: The Humanities and Social Sciences. 63.1 (2002): 245.
"This dissertation discusses representations of slavery in post-civil-rights fiction and film as reflections of and influences on public policy and opinion concerning race in the United States. In particular, I examine William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner, Margaret Walker's Jubilee, Ernest Gaines' The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Alex Haley's Roots, Sherley Anne Williams' Dessa Rose, Toni Morrison's Beloved, and the films Jefferson in Paris, Sally Hemings: An American Scandal, and A View From the Mountain."
Erickson, Steve. Arc d'X. New York: Holt, 1993.
A novel that totally inverts the nature of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship in Chase-Riboud's novel, in Sally Hemings: An American Scandal, and even in Jefferson in Paris. For instance, their first sexual encounter is a rape narrated from Jefferson's perspective as he is overcome by lust and maddened by the surrounding furor of the French Revolution.
Gordon-Reed, Annette. "Did Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson Love Each Other?" American Heritage 58.5 (2008): 14-17.
Perhaps the foremost authority on the Jefferson-Hemings relationship tackles the question on everybody's mind and concludes: "The most that can be said is that Hemings and Jefferson lived together over many years and had seven children, four of whom lived to adulthood. Jefferson kept his promises to Hemings, and their offspring got a four-decade head start on emancipation, making the most of it by leading prosperous and stable lives. That, I think, is about as much as one can expect from love in the context of life during American slavery."
Jefferson in Paris (1995)
The first film version of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship. No really discernible influence on this film; in fact, one might say that they are polar opposites. See our companion web site on Jefferson in Paris for material on that film that may be relevant here.
Martinez, Pablo Miguel. "Yours, Sally Hemings." North American Review 294.1 (2009): 30.
Short poem describing their lovemaking from Sally's viewpoint -- Jefferson is not appealing, to say the least.
McCluskey, Audrey T. "Tina Andrews: Having Her Say." Black Camera. 16.1 (2001): 1-2.
Andrews discusses the shift from acting to writing, the racism she has faced, and the difficulties blacks have in the movie business. She states there is a need for more black people, and women, to be producers and writers, and that the big companies must give them a chance.
Monteith, Sharon. "America's Domestic Aliens: African Americans and the Issue of Citizenship in the Jefferson/Hemings Story in Fiction and Film." Alien Identities: Exploring Difference in Fiction and Film. Ed. Deborah Cartmell et al. Sterling: Pluto Press, 1999. 31-48.
Written before this film but helpful on the general context of Hemings representations. "I view the controversial relationship between America's architect of democracy and his slave Sally Hemings as an allegory of the racial drama that made whites 'Americans' and blacks 'aliens'. . . . Literary representations of Thomas Jefferson have . . . quite regularly encoded the special relationship he is purported to have had with his wife's half-sister as a means of interrogating issues of race and rights." This film "ensures that Thomas Jefferson is read as a quiet intellectual statesman and a lonely widower whose emotions are awakened by the charm of a young girl who in Paris reminds him of home, of America, and most tellingly of Monticello. In fact, rather than enforcing the droit de seigneur, Nick Nolte's Jefferson succumbs to a bright young Sally . . . after an incredibly literate . . . but quite formal flirtation with married Maria Cosway."
Monteith, Sharon. "Sally Hemings in Visual Culture: A Radical Act of the Imagination?" Slavery and Abolition 29.2 (2008): 233-46.
Some consideration of fiction and film representations of Jefferson-Hemings, but the intriguing original contribution of this article is the survey of representations in painting, public art, performance art, and sculpture.
Vivian, Bradford. "Jefferson's Other." Quarterly Journal of Speech 88.3 (2002): 284-302.
Vivian divides representations of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship into three categories: the desire for judgment (Annette Gordon-Reed, the DNA), the desire for romance (Fawn Brodie, Jefferson in Paris, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Sally Hemings: An American Scandal), and inversion of the romantic interpretations by contemplating the horrible (Steve Erickson).

See Also

Custen, George F. Bio/Pics: How Hollywood Constructed Public History. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1992.

Kukla, Jon. "Sally Hemings." Mr. Jefferson's Women. New York: Knopf, 2007.

Rollins, Peter C., ed. The Columbia Companion to American History on Film: How the Movies Have Portrayed the American Past. New York: Columbia UP, 2003.

Video/Audio Resources

"Fireworks." Episode 18, Year One of 30 Rock.
In this episode, Tracy, fighting a paternity suit, discovers that his DNA shows he's a descendant of Thomas Jefferson and is mostly white. In his distress he has a dream that he's on the Maury Povich show where Jefferson's paternity is confirmed. Jack as Jefferson shows up and quiets his anxiety by telling him this is America, embrace who you are.
"The Story on Page One." Episode 219 of Family Guy.
Split-second joke involving Jefferson's whole (black) family.

Online Resources

Andrews, Tina. "Video Report: Imagining Sally Hemings." Jefferson's Blood. PBS Frontline, 2000.

"Connecting the Dots of History: The Research and Points of View behind Sally Hemings: An American Scandal."
An interview with executive producer Craig Anderson, writer Tina Andrews,
director Charles Haid, and Jefferson/Hemings descendant Julia
Jefferson Westerinen.