". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Thursday, May 29, 2014


Every fact as presented by the film is not only false, but deliberately twisted and manufactured to be something else than what little we've got of the story of these people who lived in the England of the 18th century, when England was the center of the globe's African slave trade. This is a fantasy that ignores the historical facts that are the story of Dido Elizabeth Bell - and her cousin Elizabeth, so far as the record kept track of them.

It's a phony story too, about  the Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield.  The case he sat on that helped abolition was Somerset v Stewart (1772) 98 ER 499,  not that of the slave ship  Zong. The manner in which he settled the Zong case, ruled in favor of the insurance company, which excused them from paying compensation for slaves deliberately murdered to get an insurance payout on loss of property.  It did nothing about saying that slavery was wrong, that the chattel was free, or anything like that. What the Lord Chief Justice's private opinion on these matter were are not a matter of record, nor did speak them in public. The film claims that the Zong case advanced aboliton, but it did not -- he actually reversed the lower courts' cases that tried to say killing slaves was illegal:
In reaching these conclusions, Krikler comments that Mansfield ignored the ruling of his predecessor,Matthew Hale, that the killing of innocents in the name of self-preservation was unlawful. This ruling was to prove important a century later in R v Dudley and Stephens, which also concerned the justifiability of acts of murder at sea.[43] Mansfield also did not acknowledge another important legal principle—that no insurance claim can be legal if it arose from an illegal act.[67]
Mansfield ruled on Somerset. over ten years before he ruled on the Zong case. It's because of his ruling on the Somersett case that Dido could be called free in England. She was the daughter of a slave, and English slave law is that the child takes the status of the mother, thus not a free woman. However, the movie never mentions the Somerset case at all, which makes no sense, within the many scenes devoted to discussing the Zong case and that Masefield would be ruling on it.

Dido did not marry a gentleman, not even one so made because her uncle sponsored him to study in the Inns of Court, as the film says.  She married a steward's son. Mansfield gave her 500 pounds.  In the meantime her father portrayed as a true lover of her mother (a woman who was still a slave when she died?), but a philandering sort, who had other slave women and children by them (who were not brought to his uncle to be made free), as well as a couple of wives (who died), who gave him more children who were legitimate.

Dido was not an heiress, but her cousin Elizabeth, portrayed in Belle as a pauper, was one. Twisting the facts out of shape leaves huge plot holes.  For instance, since the Lord Chief Justice and his wife had no children, and his fortune was made by himself, there is no entail -- and his fortune is so great he can live in that mansion and possess more than one carriage, and they love their niece Elizabeth -- so why were he and his wife not giving Elizabeth a fortune?  Not even considered.

They even change the famous painting, that supposedly inspired the movie to be written, to leave out the feather and the turban. Why?

Not to mention the pure Mammy figure, stout in body, head wrapped, being all mammy-like to the young lady mulatta who gives her orders and pouts at her. There's so much in this film that doesn't make any sense in terms of class of the period -- or a coherent story.

In truth this he film is kinda of a mess, and it's a mess because of twisting the facts into what didn't exist.

But nevermind, the dresses are pretty, so are the actresses, and the square piano they play is period correct, along with all the other period detail that has nothing to do with how the characters on screen behave or the story being told.  That's all that matters, right?

The writer and director could have told this story by making it all up instead of pretending to the tell the story of something that happened.  Except then, she'd have had to leave out the Lord Chief Justice, and that would be bad, because ... well, I for one don't know why that would be bad.  It would have been pure historical romance then, and we wouldn't have to feel that the historical Dido Elizabeth Belle had been cheated and disrespected.

It would also have spared me from the rest of my life having to futilely attempt to explain all this to those who will cite this film as the facts of what happened -- and racism and slavery weren't that bad.

While I still futilely convincing people even now that what happened in 12 Years a Slave really did happen, and that Solomon Northup actually existed, and was really kidnapped into slavery, and yes, being a slave was really that bad, and in fact for millions, it was even worse than that.  And there was no actual fairy tale Jane Austen ending of his story.  He suffered so much from PTSD from his kidnapping, sales, what he saw and experienced in slavery, that he descended into drink and lost his family, and died not that long after, alone. All of which is documented.

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