Goodbye Uncle Tom
|Goodbye Uncle Tom|
Japanese DVD art
|Directed by||Gualtiero Jacopetti
|Music by||Riz Ortolani|
|123 minutes (American version)
136 minutes (Italian version)
Goodbye Uncle Tom (Italian: Addio Zio Tom) is a 1971 Italian film directed by Mondo film documentary directors Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi with music by Riz Ortolani. The film is based on true events in which the filmmakers go back in time and visit antebellum America, using period documents to examine, in graphic detail, the racist ideology and degrading conditions faced by Africans under slavery. Because of the use of published documents and materials from the public record, the film labels itself a documentary, though all footage is re-staged using actors. Though the film is presented as a documentary, it is more of a historical drama or docudrama because of its fantasy framing device of the directors travelling back in time combined with the re-staging of historical events.
The film was shot primarily in Haiti, where directors Jacopetti and Prosperi were treated as guests of Haitian dictator Papa Doc Duvalier. Duvalier supported the filmmakers by giving them diplomatic cars, clearance to film anywhere on the island, as many extras as they required, and even a nightly dinner with Duvalier himself. Hundreds of Haitian extras participated in the film's various depictions of the cruel treatment of slaves, as well as white actors portraying historical characters (including Harriet Beecher Stowe).
The directors' cut of Addio Zio Tom draws parallels between the horrors and slavery and the rise of the Black Power Movement, represented by Eldridge Cleaver, LeRoi Jones, Stokely Carmichael, and a few others. The film ends with an unidentified man's fantasy re-enactment of William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner. This man imagines Nat Turner's revolt in the present, including the brutal murder of the whites around him, who replace the figures Turner talks about in Styron's novel as the unidentified reader speculates about Turner's motivations and ultimate efficacy in changing the conditions he rebelled against. American distributors felt that such scenes were too incendiary, and forced Jacopetti and Prosperi to remove more than thirteen minutes of footage explicitly concerned with racial politics for American and other Anglophone audiences.
Reception and criticism
The film has frequently been criticized as racist, despite directors Jacopetti and Prosperi's claims to the contrary. In Roger Ebert's 1972 review of the shorter American version, he asserts that the directors have, "Made the most disgusting, contemptuous insult to decency ever to masquerade as a documentary."  He goes on to call the film "Cruel exploitation," suggesting that the directors degraded the black actors playing slaves by having them enact the extremely dehumanizing situations the film depicts. Critic Pauline Kael called the film “the most specific and rabid incitement to race war,”  a view shared by white nationalist and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who claimed the film was a Jewish conspiracy to incite blacks to violence against whites.
The directors denied charges of racism; in the 2003 documentary Godfathers of Mondo they specifically note that one of their intentions in making Addio Zio Tom was to "make a new film that would be clearly anti-racist" in response to criticism by Ebert and others over perceived racism in their previous film Africa Addio.
The film was scored by Italian composer Riz Ortolani and is notable for the theme "Oh My Love," sung by Katyna Ranieri, which would later be used in the soundtrack to the 2011 film Drive. Ortolani also collaborated with directors Jacopetti and Prosperi on their previous films, Mondo Cane, and Africa Addio.
- Provocateur Gualtiero Jacopetti Dead at 91: Honoring the Man Behind the Mondo Movies. Richard Corliss, August 21, 2011.
- Farewell Uncle Tom Roger Ebert, 1972
- Pauline Kael, “The Current Cinema: Notes on Black Movies,” New Yorker, December 2, 1972, 163.
- David Duke, My Awakening: A Path to Racial Understanding (Mandeville: Free Spech Press, 1999), 311.
- The Godfathers of Mondo. Dir. David Gregory. Blue Underground, 2003.