74 thoughts on “Decolonizing Our Frock Flicks

  1. Black people have lived in GB since Roman times, the Roman Empire was multi-racial and many important and influential people came from North Africa.
    Personally I’d love to see the story of Ivory Bangle Lady, an elite Roman lady of African origins. Or Beachy head woman, a lady of sub-Saharan origin apparently born in GB.
    I’ve also mentioned the tremendous possibilities of the story of Catalina, bedmaker to Catherine of Aragon who came to England as a slave but left it a free woman to make an independent life of her own in Spain.
    I have this intriguing image of two girls, Catherine and Catalina, sitting together on a big State Bed , whispering earnestly as Catherine’s position at Henry VII’s court deteriorates.

  2. Thank you for this article.
    Also, may I suggest the wonderful Tumblr MedievalPOC ? It is wonderful to have black and white proof (pun unintended) that we have long lived in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society.


    Also, one of my favorite depictions of a Medieval person of color is in the animated film “Book of Kells”. It is a wholly beautiful film.

    Thank you for not reviewing Beecham House. It was recently on PBS, but it was so racist that even the Daily Mail condemned it.

    I would also like to point out that Arabic influence has been completely erased from European history because of racism. (Instead, they like to say that the only influence was from the Crusades–cough cough, #whitewashing).

    Here is an interesting article: https://www.cnn.com/2017/07/21/middleeast/spain-islam-andalucia-influence/index.html

      1. Humbly thanking you for the gentle reminder that I need to shut up and start listening (or reading) better.

        Sorry for skimming an article that was meant to be read And thank you for your column, and all your support and demands for more equity.

        1. No worries! I try to link a ton of stuff & it’s easy to miss. But I also don’t want to repeat the same info over & over — tricky balance.

    1. It’s not entirely surprising that the Spanish would want to forget being conquered is it?

      1. If by “conquered”, you mean “upgraded”. Spain in 711 was in the Dark Ages*. But the Muslim Mozarabe culture elevated life in Spain: There is a reason that anything not-terrible in the Medieval word has an Arabic root: carpets, chess, bedsheets, pillows, lemons, almonds. Medieval Spain even had a culture of tolerance between Christian, Jews,and Muslims.

        And if it weren’t for the mathematical and medicinal discoveries made during the Al-Andalus period, then the rest of Europe wouldn’t have been experienced the Renaissance and Early Modern periods. Also, Arabic numbers rule, and Roman numerals are difficult.

        I get that your comment was meant as a well-meaning joke, and other comments on other topics show you to be an interesting and thoughtful person. So this particular uninformed joke (that white Europeans had the gall to lose to brown Muslims), shows just how deeply colonialism has been buried into the human psyche.

        *Yes, “dark ages” is a misnomer, but it is also a handy epitaph to use for comparison. And while I can hope that my reply was correct, if anyone knows better about this period, and wants to educate, that would be swell.

        1. By that argument India should be grateful to the British for colonizing them. Arguing a ‘superior’ culture has a right to impose itself strikes as seriously offensive.

          1. Ok, I will go there to the best of my ability.

            That is not a correct comparison. The two “conquering” ethinicities are reversed, yet only one ethnic group holds power in the modern age. White/European cultures have elided Mozarabe accomplishments that fundamentally changed the course of world events. That is a racist act.

            Racist acts must be challenged. The word “upgraded” was glib, but it does challenge the assumption that European cultures are somehow more advanced to non-European ones.

            “Bothsiderism”, “Whataboutism” and “discrimination against whites” is what your argument conveyed. But that facile argument fails to take into account the bloody Reconquista against Muslims, the Spanish Inquisition, the expulsion of the Jews and Muslims, The 500+ years of caste systems (and slavery), along with the Imperialistic period of North Africa and the countries’ hard-won liberations in the 1960s.

            I think that you are also alluding to the 19th-century racist mindset: “Saving the Natives” and “White Man’s Burden”. That mindset came 1000 years later, and doesn’t line up with mindsets of Medieval Spain. So the comparison doesn’t work for that way, either, either.

            Happy to be corrected, or to learn better words so that my words match my antiracist values.

            1. The Spanish had their country taken from them by invaders and occupied for seven hundred years and they’re not allowed to be upset by it. My shephardic ancestors were forced to flee Portugal in the in the 17th c. Obviously I don’t favor the Juden Frei, Muslim free ideology of the later Spanish empire but by God I understand why they felt that way!
              And btw Al- Andalus wasn’t that great a place if you happened to be Jewish or Christian. Certainly individuals did well but Dhimmis have no rights, only privileges that have to be paid for and can be revoked at anytime.
              The conquest featured slaughters of Christians for resisting or for publicly proclaiming their faith. In 1066 there was a general massacre of Jews triggered by resentment towards a Jewish Grand Vizier.
              The Almohad conquest in 1148 ended the age of tolerance in Al Andalus. Dhimmi status was revoked and Christian and Jewish subjects forced to convert or flee.
              Agreed two wrongs don’t make a right but the conquest of Spain was as much an act of imperialism and colonization as the the conquest of india or the America’s.

          2. Hi, I’m Indian American, and a bit of an Anglophile. For most of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Indian population considered the British were considered gross and definitely not superior, thanks to their habit of bathing just once a week and drinking beer instead of water. I do think that a lot of Indians could be considered “grateful” (not really the right word) to the British for providing a common enemy, a common language, and a common infrastructure (trains, telegraphs, etc) by which to subvert and ultimately overthrow the colonizers.

            I did happen to go to Andalusia several months ago, and it’s pretty disturbing how much emphasis museums etc place on the “Reconquista” by Ferdinand and Isabella (yes, that Ferdinand and Isabella) and the total destruction of anything Moorish or Sephardic. Even the Alhambra was half torn down, and wasn’t restored until the 1930s.

            1. Wish I could edit my previous comment, but to make it crystal clear: the British in India were definitely NOT superior. To assume that they were is accepting the British colonialist mindset at face value.

              If you take a decolonial perspective, i.e. the perspective of the Indians (with the caveat that there wasn’t really an Indian national identity in the 1740s, any more than there was an Italian national identity), Robert Clive & Co. were unwashed weasels doing backdoor deals to pit one princely state against another (usually brother-v-brother fights further inflamed by British rumors.)

              Compare that to the might of the Mughal Empire, which had built the Taj, had highly advanced agricultural and shipbuilding technology (much much better than Europe’s), and had already undergone an Industrial Revolution to produce 25% of the world’s industrial output in less than 5% of the world’s land area.

              The Mughals definitely were not perfect benevolent rulers, but to say they were somehow inferior to the British is laughable.

    2. Elise, thanks for the Medieval POC site; just sent it to a cousin who took “Martine” as her confirmation name in honor of the first–I think–New World saint, Martin de Porres.

      1. It was a revelation to me. It’s an incredible, affirming, beautiful site. Of course, Trystan posted it first. I hope that you and your cousin have fun exploring. And Martine is a beautiful name, and with a lovely intent.

  3. I know this isn’t a film, but Merlin (the BBC tv series) features a few black people and I’m pretty there was backlash that Guinevere was played by a black woman. Those things don’t bother me, even though I’m usually a stickler for period-appropriate stuff.

    1. I love that series!! Personally, I never minded any inaccuracies in King Arthur-based stuff (and I’m also stickler about history), because the original stories have changed so much that I think they’re basically myths/legends now. As long as people don’t try to claim they’re being historical, I say just go wild and have fun with them!

  4. My list of recommended Frock Flicks:
    Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (plain clothing but still worth a look)
    Farewell My Concubine (queer themes)
    Lust, Caution (deals with colonization, fighting back and women’s roles in the resistance)
    A large chunk of Kurosawa’s filmography

    I haven’t seen Onibaba or the Handmaiden, but I heard good things about them.

    1. I forgot to add :
      Rabbit Proof Fence (plain clothing but a must see)
      Bran Nue Dae (haven’t seen, but there aren’t enough movies about indigenous people. They must be acknowledged!)
      The Nightingale (haven’t seen, but has definite anti-colonial themes.)

      1. My thought, too. I remember that many films were made in the Hawaiian language, that explored the colonial period from their point of view and in their language. Sadly, I cannot find them. The Hawaiian International Film Festival specialises in Pacific-made films, often written and performed the appropriate language. https://hiff.org/

        The Nightingale, I understand, actually had to be toned down, because the real suffering of the Aboriginal peoples was too tough for modern audiences.

        I second your Kurosawa comment!

      1. You might also enjoy “The Makioka Sisters” then. The narrative is painfully skimpy, even for someone who hasn’t read the book first, but there are lovely kimonos everywhere.

  5. It is 20th Century and doesn’t have much variety in the the way of clothing, but one of my favorites is Green Book.

      1. It is a true story. Tony Lip definitely didn’t look good in it, with all of his faults. I think they both benefited from their relationship and were friends until they died.

  6. I’m not sure of the exact time period or how interesting the costumes are (since it’s been a while since I’ve seen it), but I think I can recommend the 2013 New Zealand film White Lies in this context. Possibly inspired by Merle Oberon’s multiracial story, though played out in a more local New Zealand setting. (For more on Merle Oberon, see You Must Remember This podcast of 2/10/20.)

  7. I know the 2016 version of Roots does pay a LITTLE more focus on women but it can’t be recommended over the original 1977 version. It’s more raw, more real, less polished and therefore a better representation of the story than the remake IMHO.
    Also, I would recommend “Queen”, the 1992 TV miniseries based upon the paternal side of Alex Haley’s family and is very female-centric. It deals more with the plight of being bi-racial in the time leading up to and after the Civil War. Excellent breakout performance by Hallie Berry, also starring Danny Glover, Ann Margaret, Tim Daly, and Victor Garber, among others. Costumes ain’t bad either.

    1. If nothing else, it has a rousing score, and the character of Nandi (Shaka’s mother) was a portrait of dignity and woman’s power.

      1. Nandi was a huge influence on Shaka. He seems to have fallen apart with grief when she died.

  8. Thank you for this. I’m doing “100 Days of Tiny Costumes” on Instagram and realized that my list was overwhelmingly white. I’ve been googling and asking for recommendations, but I haven’t seen a huge amount of historical costumes.

  9. THANK YOU for this post and for addressing this issue, yet again. Not long after I first discovered FrockFlicks last year, I was pleasantly surprised to learn you ladies were allies when I stumbled upon your post “Race And Roles in Historical Costume Drama.” I am African-American, and I had no expectations of finding such open-minded, culturally-aware content here. In the past year, I have really appreciated the discussions of race in your blog posts. By the same token, I don’t always enjoy some of the opinions in the comments section (like the problematic ones you address above), but that’s life. It was your website that introduced me to the web series Black Girl in a Big Dress, which I love!

    I would LOVE to see biopics of: Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, father of Alexandre Dumas and his inspiration for The Count of Monte Cristo. (The biography about him, The Black Count by Tom Reiss is excellent. Also, the casting of a bi-racial actor in BBC’s The Musketeer’s–below–was inspired by him.) Thomas Jefferson’s Daughters by Catherine Kerrison. Ann Lowe, who designed Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress. Last night I stumbled on an interesting TCM documentary featurette called “Blackface and Hollywood – African-American Film History.”

    In response to your solicitation for more Black movies to discuss in the context of FrockFlicks, below is a list of movies off the top of my head. I only checked these titles against the list above (not the whole website), so perhaps you have reviewed some of them. I have seen several, not all of these works. Some I saw long ago. In other words, you’ll have to give the a fresh look to determine if they fit the FrockFlicks purview. Some are TV shows that do not feature Black main characters, but have several episodes related to race relations of the time. Another good way to uncover hidden gems is the same patter for MCM and WCW, pick actors that you like and pour over their filmographies.

    Bolden (2019)
    Carmen Jones (1954)
    The Color Purple (1985)
    The Cotton Club – Director’s Cut (2019)
    Dancing on the Edge (2013)
    Endeavour (2012 – )
    Fences (2016 – )
    George Gently (2007 – 17)
    Grantchester (2014 – )
    Harlem Nights (1989)
    Loving (2016)
    The Musketeers – BBC TV Show (2014)
    Posse (1993)
    The Rat Pack (1998)
    Ray (2004)
    The Rosa Parks Story (2002)
    Roots (1977)
    Rosewood (1997)
    The Women of Brewster Place (1989)
    Wondrous Oblivion (2003)

    1. There has been a movie titled ‘The Black Count’ about Thomas-Alexandre Dumas in our Upcoming Movies list for-ev-ah. Basically, I think someone optioned the book so IMDB lists it as ‘in development.’ I wanna see it too!

      Lots of good ones on your list, some I’ve seen when they came out but can’t find decent digital copies to screencap (I’m looking at you, Women of Brewster Place, dang I loved that one!). I’ll have to hunt down the director’s cut of The Cotton Club bec. that’s a great frock flick.

      We’re trying. It’s an ongoing process. Thanks for sticking with us.

    2. Speaking of military heroes, a Frock Flick or several about the Dahomey Amazons would be amazing, if gory. On a similar note, I won’t say no to more movies about Nzinga Mbande.

    3. Thank you so much for your comment. I will definitely watch your suggestions.

      May I also recommend Call the Midwife? And the colorblind casting of David Copperfield and The Hollow Crown.

      I would love a review of A Raisin in the Sun, along with any Opera-films performed by Jessye Norman and Marian Anderson.

      The German film Veronika Voss changed me in a profound way, and made my grandfather’s “funny” WWII stories much more sinister. The presence of a black character made the film more interesting in many respects.

      I would also like to recommend “Bong Sen” (The Lotus) a love story within the context of Algerian solidarity for Indochina independence from the French.

      Not period, but I just watched “Lovebirds” and giggled SOOO hard!

  10. Black Girl in a Big Dress is absolutely wonderful! First heard about it here! So glad they did a second season!

  11. Note to self: I need to rent The Color Purple & do a proper review for the site. Great movie, heart-breaking performances, & not bad costumes.

    1. Yes, some scenes are really hard to watch in The Color Purple but I am glad @Lily added it to her list!

      Not sure if these are FF worthy but Dances With Wolves has some beautiful scenery and performances and is sensitive to the Native American experience.
      Also, Boardwalk Empire had a several strong performances from African American actors.

      I just watched Bolden, facinating story but so very sad.

  12. Just want to say that as a person of color who loves classic lit and period drama and a long time reader this makes me very happy! It has always seemed a little transparent to me when more racial diversity than might be 100% historically accurate (although, as you rightly point out and as is so often ignored, the “past” was much more diverse than we often tend to think, even in places like England and France) is the one line of anachronism that viewers or showrunners refuse to cross in period drama, even if that period drama might include things like woefully inaccurate costuming, patently twenty-first century dialogue, and departures from real events. Most period drama is anachronistic in some way–it’s annoying when it seems to be down to accident or a lack of research, but there are all sorts of interesting, intentional, artful ways to be anachronistic as well, and more inclusion is a pretty good goal. People of color love soapy, wacky, escapist period pieces too!

    1. Shows like Sanditon & The Spanish Princess have gone ahead & tried to wedge POC characters & storylines in, & hey, that isn’t the reason those shows were wildly inaccurate, aw hell no! Then you have the latest (non-singing) Les Miz that simply casts David Oyelowo because he’s awesome & who cares about skin color. I think there’s so much room for multiracial casting in costume dramas, especially literary adaptions because that’s total fiction.

      1. Last week I listened to an audiobook version of Jane Austen’s novel fragment of Sanditon. It turns out that Lady Caroline Lamb’s character was an extremely wealthy mixed race young woman of color from the West Indies, just like in the miniseries. Sadly, we didn’t “meet” her in the fragment as Jane Austen had written so little–not even enough for episode 1 of the miniseries. By the end of the fragment, none of the main characters had met her, she hadn’t any dialogue, and The Parkers and Lady Denham were still planning the ball (that ultimately ends the fist episode). Until I listened to the story, I wasn’t sure if her character and race were 21st century inventions or not. I would’ve loved to see where Jane Austen would have gone with Caroline’s story line in the complete novel. Even though the miniseries was a complete mess on practically all levels, I was interested in her story line and the discussions and issues of race in the miniseries.

      2. Miss Lambe is an original Austen character, which is very interesting indeed. And Catalina, though historically incorrect, was the LEAST of The Spanish Princess’s problems!
        I agree that color blind casting in fiction is fine. It’s a little more problematic in history but as with Catalina, the lovely Gemma Chan was the LEAST of Mary Queen of Scots problems.

  13. Thank you ladies! My suggestions:
    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – 2011
    Memoirs of a Geisha – 2005

    1. I SO want someone knowledgeable to write a review of Memoirs of a Geisha for us! Because all I hear is that they got the Japanese dress wrong, but I unfortunately don’t know enough to know how (and I’d love to know). If anyone out there knows early- to mid-20th century Japanese dress, get in touch!

  14. I would love to see a review of A United Kingdom!

    Also, if you would be open to reviewing Bollywood movies, there are lots of “historical” (ahem) epics. Mughal-e-Azam was the Gone with the Wind of its time and still has an influence on big budget Bollywood today. Lots of Mughal era paintings to compare it to.

    Likewise, Gandhi is a rare example of non-brownface casting (apparently they first approached Alec Guinness for the role of Gandhi, what a mistake that would have been! Glad they went with the actor formerly known as Krishna Bhanji), and features both British and Indian dress over the first half of the 20th century.

    1. A United Kingdom is definitely on my list!

      Okay, somehow I had an only murky sense of Ben Kingsley’s origins, and so worried about potential brownface in Ghandi… now it’s definitely on my list too!

      1. Gandhi is a brilliant film,and Kingsley’s performance is astonishingly marvellous.Do give it a watch,as Kingsley simply imbibes Gandhiji.Gandhiji was a great but humble man which he captures beautifully.The movie delves into the politics of the time very carefully,without succumbing to portraying history from a biased view.
        I watched the movie on TV when I was very young,and I didn’t even realize that Gandhiji was played by a non Indian.To be honest the 1980’s were the graveyard of mainstream Indian cinema.I am glad they didn’t torment us with a cool and dialogue-baz version of Gandhiji as is the trend with recent Bollywood biopics.

      2. Minor point (or perhaps not so minor)…. It’s Gandhi, not Ghandi.

        What’s the difference? There are two “g” sounds in most Indian languages, one un-aspirated (transliterated g) and one aspirated (transliterated gh). Gandhi is an un-aspirated-g surname. Meanwhile, “ghan” is an approximate transliteration of filth/dirt/mud/gross in some Indian languages. In Gujarati, Gandhi’s native language, it’s a swear word.

        As you probably know, people with “ethnic” names frequently contend with mispronunciations and misspellings — the movie actually lampshades the Brits/Americans total inability to pronounce Indian names and words. It’s a really great film, as Shashwat says; I think you guys will enjoy it!

        1. Regarding the mispronunciation of Indian names,it took me three years to realize that Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay were the same person;the textbooks use both surnames interchangeably because the British failed to prononce Chattopadhyay and simplified to Chatterjee.I wouldn’t judge them for it though,even I needed to check the south Indian names twice before I pronounce it correctly but it was more about how they use “h” to signify guttural sound.My own name would be written as “Saswath” that way.More exposure to the world helps to overcome these pronunciation problems though.

  15. I wish someone would make a film of Anthony Burgess’ Nothing Like the Sun,” which postulates that the “dark lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets is a black high-class prostitute.

    1. Actually even Anthony Burgess himself wasn’t allowed to adapt it. The adaptation rights were bought by a New York theatre company early on. When Warner Brothers by way of William Conrad asked Anthony Burgess to write a movie about Shakespeare, he actually had to invent a different approach and not use any material from Nothing Like the Sun. I don’t know what the status of those rights are today but it stopped it from being filmed at the time.

      Shame, because of all fictional Shakespeare treatments, literature, film, or television, Nothing Like the Sun is far and away my favourite.

  16. Nice example of color-blind casting is Sophie Okonedo as Margaret of Anjou in “The Hollow Crown,” the BBC compilation of Shakespeare’s War of the Roses plays.

    There was also “A Respectable Trade” on PBS some years ago, about an 18th-century Bristol trader who starts dealing in slaves, the wife he charges with teaching them English, and the captives themselves. (Based on one of Philippa Fucking Gregory’s last decent novels.)

    1. Jinx! I also just posted on Sophie Okonedo! Wasn’t she a revelation? When she was on screen, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. What an artist! Oh, and that female-power part towards the end…so cool. And there are Hennins!

      1. Okonedo as an armored Margaret was my desktop photo for months after the 2016 elections: a reminder to stay outraged; I’ll put her back up again this autumn. (Btw, if you search Antony and Cleopatra Okonedo Fiennes on YouTube, there are trailers from the National Theatre production.)

    2. She also plays Nancy in the version of Oliver Twist we linked above.

      Good reminder about A Respectable Trade – I’d been putting it off because of PFG, but the topic is timely, so I’ll force myself and cross my fingers.

      1. And the hennins!

        Also, I must check out that Oliver Twist. Maybe Ms Sophie would be an interesting WCW, as Ms Lily said.

  17. I would recommend to look in Italian westerns. Many are really poor. But it’s interesting, that the roles of people of colour are more diverse there and that’s even true for the 1960s. From a Frock Flick Point of view however “My Name is nobody” is one of the most remarkable films, showing nice clothes on Henry Fonda and Jean Martin.

    However I’m a great fan of Colizzi’s triology. The People of colour have a more prominent role there especially in “Ace high”. I loved the shoot out and how pissed the evil Drake was, when he had to fight in the show down Thomas (Brock Peters). Woody Strode shows a great Performance in “Boot Hill” although I think, that this is the most confusing of the three films by Colizzi (maybe due to strange cutts?).
    Some of the Italian directors had an obvious political background. “A bullet for the General” by Damiano Damiani makes it even more clear. I loved the enthusiasm for Detail in Damiani’s film very much, focussing on the difference between Bill Tate Castle) and El Chuncho (Volentè).

  18. If you want historical films from outside Europe and North America, I think Asian film has several historical/period films of varying accuracy, though a fair few of the ones from East Asia tend to have a martial arts theme (the ‘wuxia’ films from Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers in particular), and some of them play very loose with historical accuracy in terms of costumes – just look up Five Element Ninjas (1982) to see what I mean! I believe a commenter above noted Bollywood movies as well, though I’ve not managed to delve into them yet!

  19. I was looking around F.F. for mention of designer Ann Lowe, and finally found one above, because I want to tell my fellow Frockers that Judith Thurman, biographer and social observer, wrote a fascinating article in the current New Yorker about Lowe, with photos of her luscious creations. She should have been designing for the movies–my god, that “American Beauty” debutante gown! (Backless, which was considered daring for a sweet, rich young thing in 1967; “No scandal was intended, Lowe…just didn’t want the ‘hands of the boys’ soiling her creation.”)

    Are there ever posts about designers who didn’t work for the movies, but should have?


Comments are closed.