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Sally Hemings: An American Scandal (2000)

Epic television miniseries exploring the complicated relationship of Thomas Jefferson and slave Sally Hemings, who conducted a 38 year love affair, spanning an ocean, ultimately producing children, grandchildren, and lots of controversy.

Director:

Charles Haid

Writer:

Tina Andrews
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3 wins & 5 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Sam Neill ... Thomas Jefferson
Carmen Ejogo ... Sally Hemings
Diahann Carroll ... Betty Hemings
Mare Winningham ... Martha 'Patsy' Jefferson Randolph
Mario Van Peebles ... James Hemings
Rene Auberjonois ... James Callender
Zeljko Ivanek ... Thomas Mann Randolph (as Zeljko Ivanek)
Klea Scott ... Critta Hemings
Jessica Townsend Jessica Townsend ... Maria 'Polly' Jefferson
Lawrence Gilliard Jr. ... Henry Jackson (as Larry Gilliard Jr.)
Kevin Conway ... Thomas Paine
Amelia Heinle ... Harriet Hemings
Peter Bradbury Peter Bradbury ... Samuel Carr
Chris Stafford Chris Stafford ... Peter Carr
Kelly Rutherford ... Lady Maria Cosway
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Storyline

The story of the extraordinary, controversial thirty-eight-year relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave mistress, Sally Hemings. The teenage Sally begins her unexpected relationship with widower Thomas Jefferson in Paris where he is serving as the U.S. Ambassador to France. After escorting Jefferson's younger daughter on a trans-Atlantic journey to join him in Paris, Sally is soon exposed to a world quite unlike the one in which she has lived as an illiterate slave in Monticello. While Sally serves as a nanny of sorts, Jefferson provides her with an education, fine clothes and opportunities to experience cultural events. She and her brother, James, who works as Jefferson's chef and was also educated by him, delight in the fact that they are free in France-and are treated with respect. It is under these circumstances that Sally and Jefferson become acquainted with one another and begin an affair that will ultimately lead to scandal. Written by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

The true story of the controversial romance between President Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. See more »


Certificate:

Unrated | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English | French

Release Date:

13 February 2000 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Monticello See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (DVD)

Sound Mix:

Stereo

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Several progeny (children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren) of the Hemings/Jefferson relationship did in fact have Thomas Jefferson's trademark red hair, and after leaving Monticello lived openly as white, and married white spouses, and personally identified as white, not black or colored. The progeny of the Hemings/Jefferson relationship were, in fact, 7/8 Caucasian European. Several were considered exceptionally handsome or beautiful. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Sally Hemings: I was born a slave, but destined to scandal.
See more »

Crazy Credits

ON SCREEN: In 1873, her son Madison was interviewed regarding the story of his parents. See more »

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User Reviews

Surpisingly watchable
19 February 2000 | by AbandonedRailroadGradeSee all my reviews

It's a TV movie, a chick flick, and blatant historical revisionism--I thought I'd hate it, but for some reason I didn't. An African-American woman wrote the screenplay, which is a good thing, given the racial and political ramifications of this fictionalized account of the relationship between America's third president, Thomas Jefferson, and the slave woman, Sally Hemings, who almost certainly bore him one, and probably several, children. The screenwriter was candid enough to admit that the relationship was most likely not as romantic as she portrayed, but that otherwise she tried to stick to known historical facts. Of course, the fact is that we know very little about the real Sally Hemings, and the film's creators have taken this as license to portray a very modern, strong-willed and beautiful heroine (beauty, for better or worse, is important for the star of a historical romance--and I must admit Carmen Ejogo succeeded in capturing my attention) who hardly seems to be a slave at all. She is recast as a latter-day Esther, the Biblical slave woman who became queen of Persia and used her position to save her people. But even the fictional Hemings cannot save her people--although she does help many escape to freedom. And both the fictional and real Thomas Jeffersons, despite having penned the words "all men are created equal" and claiming that slavery was an abomination before God, never took action to bring about the end of the institution of slavery. Indeed, Jefferson was a complicated and puzzling figure. A virtual Renaissance man with big, beautiful dreams for the future of humankind, he was also a hypocrite and a racist, and was frequently ineffectual in both his politics as well as his own personal finances. The last third of the movie chronicles his decline into bankruptcy, and it becomes a gothic tale of decadence, with poor Sally doing all she can to fend for herself and her children while staying loyal to the master of the house. The decline and fall of Jefferson's dream world is the final test of Sally's womanly strength, and it is also a bittersweet presaging of the fall of the Old South. Of what little we do know of the real Hemings, it seems highly probable that she was three-quarters white, and that she was in fact the half-sister of Jefferson's late beloved wife. The lasting and profound image of this modest movie is of the "white slaves," people who we know for a fact did "pass" for whites once they gained their freedom. We condemn slavery because "all men are brothers"; how astounding it is to see that on the old plantations this was literally and blatantly true, with men like Jefferson holding their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles as "property'! I liked this movie better than the fancy Merchant-Ivory production, Jefferson in Paris. Sam Neill's waffling, self-contradicted, flakey Jefferson seems more historically accurate than Nick Nolte's mountainman, and even though much of the rest is pure fantasy, it is a fairly well-crafted, entertaining and positive rendering of disturbing and potentially controversial material.


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