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'Uncle Tom's Cabin' Minus Stereotypes

June 11, 1987|CHARLES A. JOHNSON

"The figures of the blacks, in particular Uncle Tom, became stereotyped, and quite undermined the original intentions of (Stowe)," Hill said. These productions were "in the main done by whites in blackface."

"So whereas the initial response to the novel by important black people was very positive, after Reconstruction, blacks began to feel that the Uncle Tom figure was much too compliant, much too forgiving, much too lacking in militancy . . .

"So you get this buildup of resentment against Uncle Tom . . . to the point that in 1945, a musical version was banned in New Haven and Bridgeport, Conn., and Springfield, Ill.," he said. "People just didn't want to have it anymore."

The problem became more acute as the years passed because fewer people read the original novel, added Jeanne-Marie Miller, vice president of academic affairs at Howard University.

Marie, a lecturer on pre-20th century black drama, said that she doesn't think most college students have ever read "Uncle Tom's Cabin." "So they hear the term Uncle Tom and it's a very derisive term and they use it not really knowing what the real character Uncle Tom was in the book," she said.

"Although he was passive, there are a few lines that Stowe gave him . . . that remove him from being the very, very contented slave that didn't want freedom," she said.

Brooks said that three Hollywood versions of the story during the 1920s didn't improve the situation.

"The large-scale 1927 Universal Studios production featured only one black actor--James B. Lowe as Uncle Tom. Ironically, the other black roles featured whites in blackface," Brooks said.

The Showtime production is "substantially different," he said.

Lathan agrees. Showtime subscribers put off simply by the title's contemporary meaning will miss "a good movie . . . with strong acting on the part of all the characters, a good yarn and probably a more realistic adaptation than Harriet Beecher Stowe (envisioned)," he said. "It's a conscientious black man's perception of that genre."

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