21 thoughts on “TBT: Amazing Grace (2006)

  1. I didn’t like the mix of different events of Wilberforce’s life although I see the reason for that. But I loved the casting with many great actors. The difference in age and character of Wilberforce and his wife was very nice. I remember that the film was not really successfull on the market and therefore I would suppose that it would have made no difference if they would make a movie about Ignatius Sancho or even German or French people of colour (general Dumas for example and his very exciting and somehow tragic life). Gruffud very much is looking like Wilberforce and you could feel that he was inspired by the great ideas of the historical persons and that’s more then we have in many bio pics.

    I think that we should like the film in the way it was supporting us in remembering the importance of Wilberforce and his comrades.

    Besides: I very much like it, that you mentioned the servants. Servants are too often neglected.

  2. I think the question we have to ask is, how do you write a biopic about someone like Wilberforce and not make it seem white savior-y? Because I don’t think the answer is that we just shouldn’t and should just make a biopic about a Black historical figure instead. We absolutely need more of those, but William Wilberforce is a significant historical figure in his own right and I think telling his story is valid as well.

    So I think it has to come down to how it’s written. Maybe giving Equiano a larger role, and including more Black characters with more focus on their perspective, would have been a start?

    1. I would also add that some of the issue with white savior things is that they dominate the space–some are inherently objectionable, to be sure, but if we had a more diverse range of films on the topic featuring a variety of protagonists, that balances it out, too.

      That isn’t to say Equiano’s role couldn’t be expanded either. But when I recall the movie most of the abolitionist Clapham group weren’t developed that much–Equiano perhaps got more than most. I think it reflects the challenge of having a focused biopic trying to show a decades-long battle and exactly why Equiano deserves his own feature (as do undoubtedly many other forgotten Black heroes of abolitionism), where his story could be fully told/developed.

      1. I completely agree with everything you said! I think if there were more movies made about the many historical figures of color who are often neglected, that would do a lot to right the balance on its own.

      2. Agreed — Hannah More is basically there to say “we want you to champion abolition in parliament” and then “I hope you won’t mind if we’re noisy neighbors,” which, what a wasted opportunity!

    2. That’s exactly what I would do. The reality is abolition would never have happened if white people hadn’t championed it; it’s just disappointing to not see more films about BIPOC perspectives. I’d have loved to see an intertwined story about Wilberforce and Equiano; or, just a separate film about one or more POC abolitionists. It’s about ratios!

  3. The racial version of the Bechdel Test is typically called the DuVernay Test, for Ava DuVernay, but there are also variants created by Nikesh Shukla and Clarkisha Kent.

    Shukla criteria: Do two ethnic minorities talk to each other for more than five minutes about something other than race?

    DuVernay criteria (created by Nadia Latif and Leila Latif) : Are there two named characters of color? Do they have dialogue? Are they not romantically involved with one another? Do they have any dialogue that isn’t comforting or supporting a white character? Is one of them definitely not a magical negro?

    Kent criteria: an 8 point system that discusses a femme of color’s narrative arc, stereotyping, agency, and how they interact with other characters of various gender and racial identities. There’s a whole pdf about the Kent Test on the website Equality for Her.

  4. While I have no problem with black abolitionists, slaves and former slaves getting cinematic attention we can’t ignore the existence of white abolitionists or the fact that the movement would have gone nowhere without the support of white men in the power structure. Such was history.

    1. Absolutely. It’s more about representation — how many films are made about white reformers vs. BIPOC; how many stories tell multiple perspectives.

  5. I’d count this film among my favorites, and the great costumes are a definite bonus.

    I think it tried to cover so much of Wilburforce’s life (and the broad strokes of British abolitionism more generally) that very few characters besides him got much backstory or solo air time, including the abolitionists who brought the cause to his attention. Equiano and Clarkson got more than the others I think. It would be good to get Equiano’s whole story–we have his words about it, and they were tremendously important.

    1. Agreed — if they’d tried to cover less time, they’d have had more room to develop other characters. On the other hand, showing just how long and disheartening the fight for abolition was is important — you wouldn’t want to make it seem like a couple speeches got made and then poof! It’s a definite quandry.

      1. Absolutely–and it is one of the few dramas that I think does capture the length and breadth of that battle. Plus it had some very interesting things–I mean, I remember learning about Brits stopping American ships (the injustice! hence war!), but nothing about the abolitionist influence or intent there.

        I’d say this is an argument for the focused shorter series, but I don’t know if I can see it working well in that format either, to be honest–I like tight storytelling and hitting the right balance when you’re trying to fill 8 or 12 hours, let’s say, can be tough. (I also don’t trust most of the “prestige series” networks to do anywhere near as thoughtful a job as I felt these filmmakers did, even with some issues.)

  6. I agree with Natasha that Wilberforce was deserving of a biopic, and I also hope we get one on Equiano someday!

    Mostly commenting to say that “STRAIGHT OUTTA HOGARTH” makes me super happy and I want to be able to say it about more films/tv shows/friends’ sewing!

  7. I loved the movie. Yes a film about the abolition movement should have contained more POC abolitionists, but Wilberforce was such a leading light in the movement and an evangelical Christian, I can understand the concentration on him. We also have to remember that the white Patriarchy controlled the government. There were only property owners and wealthy merchant oligarchs in Parliament. No women and no POC. You had to convince them that owning a person IS wrong. I feel the film was successful in showing that. What I want is a miniseries on the subject with a diverse cast.

    1. Yes, a mini-series. I am reminded of productions about the battle for women’s right to vote in Britain. While “Shoulder to Shoulder” (and why can’t I find it for streaming?), focused excessively on the Pankhursts (well, the series was done in the 1970’s), I still found it superior to the recent film “Suffragette,” which tried to be more inclusive with class, but shortchanged everyone. Some subjects need a mini-series to show the complexity of history.

  8. I agree with much of what everyone else said–Ioan Gruffudd and Benedict Cumberbatch looked gorgeous; practically everyone else in the cast is awesome in this film and a myriad other projects as well; Rufus Sewell’s hotness was way toned down; and people of color were practically non-existent. It was well done for it was, the demerits are for what it was not. I think the people involved had the best intentions and came up with the best white savior movie they could.

    And Nicholas Farrell – the first “where have I seen him/her before” person – starred in the EXCELLENT and criminally-underseen movie “A Midwinter’s Tale.” It’s not a FrockFlick and thus had no reason to be mentioned above. Even so, it’s one of my all-time favorite films and I always recommend when I have the opportunity! I think the British title was “In the Bleak Midwinter.” It’s one of Kenneth Branagh’s lessor-known works. I think any and/or all theater people will love it!

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