Sofia Coppola's remake of The Beguiled has multiple changes compared to its novel source material and director Don Siegel's 1971 adaptation with Clint Eastwood. Perhaps the most significant is that the story is told from the perspective of the women characters instead of Colin Farrell's Cpl. John McBurney, but there is also a notable change in the ensemble. In the original story, the Virginia-based Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies is also home to a young slave girl named Hattie -- but Coppola's film doesn't include her. I asked the director about this alteration at the Beguiled Los Angeles press day earlier this month, and her explanation was rather straight forward:
I thought that that was such an important subject I didn't want to treat it lightly, so I decided not to have that character... It's such an important topic that you don't just want to brush over that lightly. I didn't want to be disrespectful about that story.
Given that The Beguiled is set in the middle of the American Civil War, it would have been historically accurate for the film to have a slave character, but making that decision comes with a lot of baggage, and Sofia Coppola made the choice to not carry it as an element in her movie. It seems she feels that it would have been inappropriate to include the character and not address the incredibly vital issue of slavery -- which simply wasn't a part of the story she wanted to tell.
It's an understandable quandary -- highlighted by the fact that The Beguiled is only 94 minutes long. As it stands, there isn't a great deal of real estate when it comes to establishing the central narrative thrust of the film, which sees some psychosexual tension play out between Colin Farrell's John McBurney and the seminary's headmistress (Nicole Kidman), teacher (Kirsten Dunst), and oldest student (Elle Fanning). There isn't a ton of room available for an important discussion about the horrific events that plagued the nation at that time in American history -- so there was a choice between not including it, short-changing it, or having it potentially de-rail the movie. Sofia Coppola went with option A.
You can watch Sofia Coppola discuss her decision not to feature Hattie in her adaptation of The Beguiled by clicking play on the video below.