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One of the obsessive speculations in American history is whether Thomas Jefferson, in the years before he became president, had an affair with (and fathered a child with) his 15-year-old slave Sally Hemings. JEFFERSON IN PARIS follows Jefferson to France (as the U.S. ambassador to the court of Louis XVI), following the death of his wife his friendships and flirtations with the French, his relationship with his daughters and slaves from home (especially Sally), against the backdrop of the beginning of the French Revolution. Written by
Michael C. Berch <email@example.com>
I love this movie, because I am a complete sucker for movies set in the 18th century, and this is exceptionally well done. Nick Nolte is the most extremely unlikely choice to play Jefferson, but somehow he and the director make it work. The extensive selections from Jefferson's letters as he watches things unravel in France add a great deal to the entertainmnet value.
Most people think that TJ signed the Constitution, when in fact he was US ambassador to France. From a costume point of view and in terms of certain vignettes, this movie does a marvelous job of debunking that notion.
Now to the Sally Hemmings thing. DNA evidence does not lie, and it is now clear that he did indeed father her children. But I have a problem, and I'm not sure if there is any historical resolution to it. In the movie, she is a "massah, how's you feelin' today" type slave. I'm willing to accept that they fell mutually in love, but I'm still having a hard time dealing with her not having more class. It is a mistake to believe that slaves of relatively enlightened owners (yes, folks, I know what I'm saying) had no sophistication.
Dumas Malone, the great biographer of Jefferson, would go into an apoplexy if you raised the possibility of this affair being real. Now that we know that it was, I might be his unworthy successor in suggesting that a man like Jefferson would not simply take a steppinfetchit slave girl to his bed, but would rather seek comfort in the arms of someone whom he could respect, however questionable the situation looks in a modern light.
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