May '00 : A House Divided

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By Sékou

Unseemly family secrets can often result in immense mental anguish-- both from the exhausting task of keeping those secrets hidden and the damage they can wreak once they've been uncovered. This reality is well explored in Showtime's A House Divided.


A House Divided is based on the true story of a young slave named Julia (Lisa Gay Hamilton) who is bought by the wealthy Dickson family. David Dickson (Sam Waterston) takes a liking to Julia based on the fact that she's well spoken and bright. Her intelligence was particularly intriguing because it was illegal to teach slaves during that era. Eventually, Dickson rapes Julia and she becomes pregnant from the encounter. Once Julia gives birth, she makes what must have been one of the most heart-wrenching decisions of her life; Julia shuns her own child and, in effect, forces the Dickson family to raise the child as their own. Young Amanda (Jennifer Beals) is raised as a white woman without any awareness that her own mother is the house slave girl Julia. Indeed, she might have lived all of her life without that knowledge if not for the affections a white soldier, which forced the Dickson family secrets to the fore. Each of the main characters deals with this disclosure in different, almost equally destructive ways, and they escape the ugly truth for a number of years. The truth has not vanished, however, and when David Dickson's last will and testament is revealed it serves as the catalyst for re-hashing the family's sordid past. Making this renewed attention all the more embarrassing, especially for Amanda, is the fact that the drama is played out very publicly in southern courtrooms.


Anyone that caught Lisa Gay Hamilton in Beloved, knows the sister can throw down and this movie was no exception. The tremendous obstacles that her character faced in real life gave Lisa Gay a tremendous canvas with which to explore her character's emotions. She portrayed each phase of Julia's very complicated life with equal aplomb. Jennifer Beals was also strong in a role that helped her explore her own multiracial identity-- much the same as she did in Devil in a Blue Dress.


A House Divided is a very solid film, made even more interesting by the fact that it's based on a true story. Though it starts off as just another upsetting white-slave-master-abuses-black-slave-girl type of movie, it quickly progresses beyond that and offers up enough emotional content and plot twists to make it well worth watching. An excellent movie that deserves to be examined and lauded.


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