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

Slavery's Women
By Faith Roncoroni, with comments by Keiko Akamine, Adam Baker, and Nelson Calero

Traditionally we learn the effects that slavery has had, and in some ways still has, on blacks: exploiting labor, undermining identity, separating mother and child, dehumanizing slaves who are the master’s blood relatives, dying at the end of a whip or barrel of a gun, and sowing fear to prevent advancement of the black race. We know that these are the horrors of slavery that blacks faced everyday, but we are embarrassed to admit that the United States was fundamentally structured in inequalities; our embarrassment and guilt associated with slavery often makes us dismiss how the privileged were also negatively impacted. The need to maintain power corrupted and consumed slave masters, causing them to become suspicious and power hungry...
Love Should Know No Color
By Stephanie DeLuca, with comments by Kevin Campbell, Jenna Goldenberg, and Kristina Gonzalez

We 21st-century Americans, who tend to have only the most generalized knowledge about what life under slavery must have been like for African-Americans, are still bogged down by the interracial and scandalous relationship between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. Tina Andrews, the writer of Sally Hemings: An American Scandal, shied away from the political complications of the third president in order to put more of a focus onto the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings. She crafted a romantic fantasy with a historical setting in an attempt to empower Sally and highlight the strengths of the African-American woman. I completely support the movie’s purpose, but the product is no reflection of its intention. (
Damage Control: A Good Jefferson
By Chrissie Rapp, with comments by Daniel Carr, Christopher Hall , and Gregory Jakes

In 1998, DNA tests of the descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings revealed the likelihood that the two did indeed have a relationship. Until that point, filmmakers had the opportunity to expand on the story in any way they chose because proof was based on oral history and an interview from Hemings’ son, Madison. Historians could neither prove nor refute the information, so directors were merely perpetuating a legend. After the testing, it was important for the legacy of a great man to create a movie that posed the situation in a positive light. (see comment by Daniel Carr) Whether or not you believe that the affair occurred is irrelevant; shaky proof of a sexual relationship now exists, and the...
Sally Hemings: An American Scandal: The Real Scandal
By Steve McGorry, with comments by Dallas Gage and Brandi Klotz

“An American Scandal” is an interesting way to describe the events that occurred in the time of Jefferson and Hemings -- it would seem that what the definition of this particular “scandal” actually is could be a matter of opinion. Was the scandal the fact that Thomas Jefferson is rumored to have fathered children with a black woman? Or, is it the fact that Jefferson had an ongoing relationship with one of his slaves throughout the course of his lifetime -- a relationship that had implications of love between master and slave? The hypocrisy of this time seriously complicates both of these options. (see comment by Dallas Gage)
Is Romanticizing Rape Acceptable?
By Anne Rodriquez, with comments by Kathryn Martin, Christopher McHugh, and Anna Robertson

Slavery was a terrible institution; it is one of our greatest shames for many reasons. One disgusting aspect of slavery was rape. Often, white masters raped their black slave women, and we will never know the extent of this abomination. Because the slave women were their property, the men felt they could do anything they wanted with them, that these women’s bodies were their property. Furthermore, rapes beget slave children, increasing the property value of the masters.
A Tale of Two Jameses
By Karolina Kiwak, with comments by Matthew Sakalosky, Raquel Santos, and Watson Sweat

The films Jefferson in Paris and Sally Hemings: An American Scandal both depict the scandalized relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. In the background, they also show the relationship between Sally and her older brother, James. Each film utilizes the character of James to enhance the message it is trying to portray. Jefferson in Paris uses James to represent the voice of reason and to fill the role of the strong African slave fighting his captors with knowledge. He is the one with a problem with enslavement and a craving for freedom and rights. Sally is portrayed as a naïve child, searching for someone to take care of her and thus turning to Jefferson to fill that need. James...
Sally Hemings: An Effective Inaccuracy
By Danielle Gorman, with comments by Emre Turan, Sabrina Velazquez, and Erin Wildeman

While we will never know which is more representative of the “true” Sally Hemings, the differing depictions provided to us in Jefferson in Paris and Sally Hemings: An American Scandal force us to question which writer was more accurate. However, in doing so, we must also ask ourselves if a small sacrifice of accuracy was the more effective approach in terms of reaching a broader audience and disseminating the historical value of this tale.
Clinton and Jefferson: How Sex Can Define a Presidency
By Zachary Rubin

On January 19th, 1998, a political gossip column known as The Drudge Report reported that the editors of Newsweek had received information via investigative reporter Michael Isikoff revealing that President Bill Clinton had sexual relations with a former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. After the Washington Post confirmed the story in subsequent days and the White House staff members continually denied such allegations, President Clinton uttered eleven words on January 26th, 1998, that would ultimately and arguably define his presidency: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Consequently, President Clinton faced massive media scrutiny, as pundits heavily debated...
Mini-Symposium on the Politics of Sally Hemings
By the Reel American History class, Lehigh University, February 2011

Teacher's note: Reel history often has a political agenda. Peter Rollins says that "Hollywood has often attempted to influence history by turning out films consciously designed to change public attitudes." Such is the Sally Hemings film. African American Tina Andrews envisions her Hemings as "the voice of the silenced" expressing outrage against Jefferson to "further dialogue between the races." A tricky task, indeed. I asked our class if her agenda is a good thing, and, if so, is it successful?