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Summary Article: Beloved
from American Literature on Stage and Screen: 525 Works and Their Adaptations

A novel by Toni Morrison (1987)

FILM: Beloved (Touchstone-Harpo Films 1998). Adaptation by Akosua Busia, Richard LaGravenese, Adam Brooks. Director: Jonathan Demme. Cast: Oprah Winfrey (Sethe), Danny Glover (Paul D), Thandi Newton (Beloved), Kimberley Elise (Denver), Beah Richards, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Albert Hall, Irma P. Hall, Anthony Chisholm.

Filled with mystery and mysticism, Beloved is a novel that leaves many things unanswered in the reader's mind yet it is still an engrossing and fulfilling work. After the Civil War, the ex-slave Sethe and her daughter Denver live in a house in Cincinnati that seems to be haunted. When Paul D, who was a slave at the same plantation in Kentucky where Sethe was, arrives in town he tries to determine why the supernatural inhabits the house. At the same time a young woman who goes by the name Beloved shows up at the house and seduces Paul D. He learns from Sethe that eighteen years earlier, when she escaped across the Ohio River with her three children, bounty hunters found them. Rather than let her children live in slavery, Sethe tried to kill them, succeeding only in murdering her daughter Beloved. Is it the ghost of Beloved who haunts the house? Is the woman Beloved a reincarnation of the dead daughter? Denver and the black community help exorcize the house but the question of who Beloved really is not resolved. Toni Morrison's novel won the Pulitzer Prize and was a bestseller, soon becoming required reading in the field of notable African American literature. Actress-entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey bought the film rights to the book and, after spending ten years trying to get a studio interested, produced the 1998 movie herself. It is a long (172 minutes) and demanding film, faithful to the book in many ways yet more confusing in other ways. Director Jonathan Demme makes everything in the film oblique, purposely disorienting the viewer. The novel is not linear and scenes and images blend in a collage-like manner. On screen this tends to cloud the tale and both events and characters sometimes seem illogical. The acting throughout is commendable, with Thandi Newton downright eerie as Beloved, and some veteran actors turn in sterling performances in secondary roles. All the same, the film of Beloved is best appreciated if one knows the book very well.

© 2012 McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers

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