Set in nineteenth-century New Orleans, the story depicts the gens de couleur libre, or the Free People of Colour, a dazzling yet damned class caught between the world of white privilege and black oppression.
Magloire Dazincourt, the owner of Bontemps, the largest sugar plantation of the entire South, asks his favorite cousin, Philippe Ferronaire, to marry his daughter Aglae Dazincourt and take over most of its management and family, including his colored mistress Cecile Ste. Marie, for whom he has a cottage build in New Orleans. When Magloire dies, Philippe becomes her lover and the father -not in law- of her son Marcel, named after his own father though, and promises her to get the boy educated in racially egalitarian Paris from age 18. However while still living in the decadent creole society in New Orleans, Marcel Ste. Marie gets in touch trough a colored carpenter with both his white and black roots, both of which bloodlines suffered greatly in the bloody racial civil wars on Haiti, a subject the American society refuses to deal with publicly, and the more people he gets to know or hears their past, the more he gets aware of social and racial matters. Then his father Philippe gets in ... Written by
We tend to forget that the master/slave context of the past centuries lead to more than well-tended estates, powered by large groups of enslaved people, and a lot of money for the white owners. It lead to a group of people caught in the middle - the offspring resulting from slave owners interferring with their female slaves.
Some of these children just became more slaves, and others were free...but free and coloured, which back then meant anything but, relative to the lot of their sires.
A class formed around these offspring - the gens de couleur libre or free people of colour - and that class was able, to a certain extent, to own property, raise themselves from downtrodden to educated, and to attain a comparative dignity. That is to say, they weren't slaves, but they were still exploited to a certain extent.
Often, the women lived as mistresses to the white plantation masters and men of wealth, set up in their own houses, with allowances, schooling paid for for their children, and a kind of gentility, dependent on the respectability they chose to impose on their families. In essence, they were prostituting themselves to ensure their own prosperity, and relative independence from labour - an arrangement called plaçage.
Feast of All Saints is a beautifully written story about the children of one such woman, the result of just such an arrangement with a local gentleman, and the people who touched on their lives, in both a negative and a positive way. The tale was an eye-opener for me, a New Zealander, with no real conception of the black/white lines, let alone that grey area in the middle where the gens de couleur libre trod gingerly.
The characters are very three dimensional, and have been well-rendered in this adaption of the novel, by Anne Rice. The parts are well-cast, the costumes are wonderful, and the brutal way the lines are drawn out, with the blurred areas made all the more distinct by the conflicts the protagonists go through. The gens de couleur libre could not marry the whites, the slaves could not help themselves, and the whites, even the sympathetic ones, couldn't bear to face the economic reality of doing right by the people they depended on.
I recommend this story, both the novel and the miniseries, to everyone, unreservedly. If you can't handle the truth you'll cringe and cower through some parts, as one injustice after another is meted out on those of colour, both by their white oppressors, and by their own people. Bear in mind though that this is nothing more than reality, and this tale is an absorbing way to learn about it.
I know it may sound callous, but this miniseries both entertained me and enthralled me, despite the sour taste I found in my mouth at what went on, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Watch it. If not read up on the period, because there's a lesson to be learned from it all.
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