Oprah Winfrey purchased the film rights to the novel in 1987. She claims that while reading the book, she could only picture herself as Sethe and Danny Glover as Paul D. It took her ten years to get the film made, which she finally had to produce herself.
A subplot in the novel, but omitted from the film, suggests that Beloved might actually be a missing woman from a nearby town, who was tortured and imprisoned by a white man. The subplot underscored Sethe's need for Beloved to be her reincarnated daughter.
The farmhouse scenes were filmed in Fair Hill, Maryland, on park land along the Big Elk Creek (seen in the creek wading scene). Park Manager Ed Walls even had a bit part as the ferris wheel operator. The house was built for the movie, though it was convincing enough to fool park goers into thinking it was a real old farmhouse after the movie crew departed. There was no snow that year, so the winter scenes were fabricated with fake snow, plastic icicles, and shaved ice, all of which had to be vacuumed up from the fields once shooting was completed. During filming, the park office got a call from another Maryland park asking for advice on dealing with a another film crew. They claimed some kids wanted to film a movie, but they said they didn't seem to know what they were doing, and seemed to just be running around the woods with cameras. The Beloved ended up not being nearly as big of a box-office draw as The Blair Witch Project (1999)
When Jonathan Demme presented an honorary Oscar to his mentor Roger Corman, he revealed that the Jason Robards role in Beloved (1998) had been originally cast to be played by Corman, but when Corman discovered the role had no lines, "a scheduling conflict ensued and he withdrew from the part with apologies."
In a scene set on Fourth Street in Cincinnati, Danny Glover walks by the John Shillito & Co. department store. Founded in 1832, "Shillito's" (pronounced "SHIL-ih-toes"), as it was known by local residents, was the most famous department store in downtown Cincinnati for 150 years. (It was the Cincinnati equivalent of Marshall Field's in Chicago or Nordstrom's in Seattle.) In 1982, the store became "Shillito-Rike's," and in 1986, it was re-named "Lazarus," after its owner, the F.H. Lazarus Co. In 2005, Lazarus was bought out by Macy's. The 1878 Shillito's department store building still stands at Seventh and Race Streets in Cincinnati, but has been converted into condos.
The different feel for the flashback sequences was achieved by shooting on reversal negative, a cheap film stock once used for newsreels, which was inspired by seeing The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974).
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
Author Toni Morrison based part of her story on a true case. Margaret Garner was a slave who lived on a farm called Maplewood in Boone County, Kentucky. Her owner was Archibald K. Gaines, who was most likely her half-brother, and the father of two of Margaret's children. In January, 1856, Margaret, her husband Robert Garner, and their four children escaped across the frozen Ohio River to the home of Margaret's uncle, Joe Kite, just outside Cincinnati. When slave catchers caught up with them, Margaret Garner attempted to kill her four children rather than have them returned to slavery. She succeeded in killing her two-year-old daughter with a butcher knife before she was subdued. It took four weeks to bring the case to trial in Cincinnati, because the prosecution argued that Margaret should be tried under federal Fugitive Slave Laws, while the defense argued that Margaret should be tried for murder under state murder laws. (The defense hoped to obtain a pardon from the Ohio governor if Margaret was convicted.) By the time the judge ruled in favor of the federal Fugitive Slave Laws, Margaret's owner had taken her back across the river to Kentucky. To keep her out of the hands of Ohio abolitionists, Gaines sent Margaret to New Orleans, and then to a Mississippi plantation, where she died of typhoid fever in 1858.