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Goodbye Uncle Tom: A Horrifying Film on Slavery

Updated on May 29, 2016

Film Poster

Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971)
Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971) | Source

Film Directors

Gualtiero Jacopetti
Gualtiero Jacopetti
Franco Prosperi
Franco Prosperi

Writing Credits

Film Trailer

Film Synopsis

Two documentary filmmakers travel back in time to film the slave trade in the pre-Civil War American South.


Plot Summary

Goodbye Uncle Tom is an Italian MondoExploitation Film.

This film was released in 1971.

It is about the directors of the film time-travelling to the deep southern pre-Civil War American South.

There, they attempt to document every distressing, graphic and unbridled detail of the slavery lifestyle.

Some scandalous scenes that stood out in this film included:

  • the directors attending a social event where the guests threw their food scraps to half-naked Black children crammed underneath the dining table;
  • the slave training camp, which resembled a factory-line;
  • and the scientist that was looking to support his thesis of White people being inherently superior to Black people.

Be advised, this film is not a pleasant experience nor is it for the faint of heart.

This is a very controversial film; it has received many mixed reviews but the directors insisted that it has a clearly anti-racist message:

An All-Time Great Gut-Busting Flick!

— The Amsterdam News

The Most Shocking Of The Series... Banned In Several Countries For Obvious Reasons!

— DVD Talk

This Is It! The Most Offensive, Denigratory And All-In-All Unrelentingly Distasteful Film You Are Likely To Witness!

— Sex Gore Mutants

The most specific and rabid incitement to race war.

— Pauline Kael

The most disgusting, contemptuous insult to decency ever to masquerade as a documentary.

— Roger Ebert

Series of Still Photographs in the Film

Film Review

This film took a shocking and bizarre look at slavery in America.

However, it was primarily shot in Haiti and hundreds of Haitian extras participated in the making of this film.

They were poverty-stricken and barely paid to be featured in various scenes depicting the cruel and inhumane treatment of slaves.

White actors were also featured as portraying historical characters in the film (e.g., Harriet Beecher Stowe).

On screen, the setting appeared to be in the deep South prior to the Civil War, where the directors, Jacopetti and Prosperi, are found travelling back in time aboard a helicopter to essentially create observational cinema on slavery as it was happening in the United States prior to abolition.

The dangerous and degrading process of which slaves were subjected to was hard to digest in the film.

It showed conflicting arguments and antiquated ideologies (e.g., the moral and spiritual necessity of slavery versus its economic impact and practicality).

It also illustrated contrasting thoughts on gender, education, and the issue of miscegenation.

The level of power and punishment in this film truly re-created an imposing sense of richness and offensiveness associated with the Old South.

The film's conclusion shows a modern-day, Black Panther-esque priest reading William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner and fantasizing about taking righteous vengeance on them that had oppressed his people for generations.

Understandably this film was controversial, given its nature, so much so that it received a very brief release in America, under the title Farewell Uncle Tom.

Farewell Uncle Tom Poster

Film: Music Score

Analysis

Goodbye Uncle Tom is an extraordinarily well-made film yet very lengthy (e.g., 2 hours of extreme horror and violence).

It was rated X from the MPAA despite nearly 20 minutes of its original Italian running time being cut from the film.

The film was trimmed and the vengeance was cut out, which caused much more confusion and mixed reviews among film-goers.

The film was so difficult to sit through that it caused massive walk-outs and almost started riots among U.S. audiences.

It featured too many elements of slavery without catharsis, such as rape, torture, controlled breeding, whippings, castration, teeth pulling, family separation, etc.

I think the director's tried to inject some unapologetic originality into the “mondo” shockumentary genre (e.g., a satirist vibe) but that went awry because it was too inflammatory for America in 1971 with the Black Panthers still in full effect.

The film ended up being misinterpreted by Black America as a perpetuation of centuries of torment; meanwhile, it was misconstrued by conservatives as the nightmarish vision of the future many feared since the Civil Rights era (e.g., an uprising).

Many noteworthy scenes and elements of the film resulted in a lot of head-scratching for me.

For instance, the film is scored to the beautiful sounds of Riz Ortolani’s music, which seemed unusual.

The directors continued to make peculiar use of the music score throughout the film.

It was noticeable and poignant during many scenes, such as the upbeat marching band music played throughout the film, which one might draw a parallel to the slave owner's perception of viewing this film in theaters (e.g., in an cheery manner).

This film also had a dark sense of humor; the characters often engaged in twisted repartee.

Overall, the graphic portrayal of slave life in the Old South was so realistic in this film, that it is not hard to understand why it received such harsh criticisms from film-goers.

Often times the subject of slavery is approached with a modicum of sensitivity but this film took an extremely insensitive approach to portraying it.

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Recommendation

Goodbye Uncle Tom is a recommendable film despite its exploitative and offensive nature.

Although it makes an utter mockery of slavery and humiliates its actors in the process; this film dealt with The Transatlantic Slave Trade and the process of slavery more than any other.

All political correctness is out of the window with this film; it offends both progressives and racists, which is an awkward accomplishment for the directors.

I guarantee you will never forget it and that is reason enough to take a gander at this divisive cult classic.

For me, the cognitive dissonance at the heart of this film made it fascinating to view.

However, this is certainly not a film to be observed by children, anyone overly sensitive, or during Black History Month.

Buy The DVD Here

Goodbye Uncle Tom
Goodbye Uncle Tom

It was advertised as "The first motion picture based on historical facts about the rise and revolt of slavery in America." It became one of the most reviled and misunderstood films of its time. Written, edited, produced and directed by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, this epic recreation of the American slave trade atrocities was both condemned as depraved exploitation and acclaimed as an unprecedented cry of Black anguish and rage. The Detroit Chronicle hailed it as "a graphic, moving, nerve-paralyzing film." Legendary film critic Pauline Kael called it "the most specific and rabid incitement of the race war." Three decades cannot diminish GOODBYE UNCLE TOM's impact or quiet its controversy.

This is the complete 123-minute English Version of GOODBYE UNCLE TOM, fully restored from the original vault negatives, loaded with incredible Extras and now presented totally uncut, uncensored, and virtually unseen since its abortive theatrical release more than 30 years ago.

EXTRAS:

Theatrical Trailer

Behind-the-Scenes 8mm Footage with Audio Commentary by Giampaolo Lomi

Giampaolo Lomi's Behind-the-Scenes Still Gallery

Poster & Still Gallery

 

Watch The Film For Free Here

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    • junko profile image

      junko 12 months ago

      The past helps to explain the present by filling in the blanks in the past history of American Negros. Thanks for you input.

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