Blacked Out

Speaking of slavery, Cold Mountain doesn't. Its pale version of history is a whitewash.

Minghella has a dark, swarthy background of his own he may need to overcome before he can see black people clearly. Though the director has an English patrician air about him, he's of Italian parents who migrated to the Isle of Wight to run an ice cream business there. As an auteur he reveals a recurring fascination with caste traitors who desire rebel status and outsiders who desire the bodies and lives of the privileged. Like many other immigrants who changed their ethnic and class status through a British education, he may be a bit in awe of upper-class Anglicans. In a recent interview, the director said he saw himself as "staining" every frame of Ripley's aristocratic backdrop. He used the same term to describe his direction of Kidman's Ada, too. Does Minghella see himself as grimy when set beside Anglo-Saxons?

The call for a boycott seems to have been premature, given Cold Mountain's faint nods from Oscar. The nomination of gentle Jude Law's Inman is bizarre. In the clutch, toward film's end, he works as Ada's butt-naked, butt-pumping lover, but as a wounded rebel, a Southerner, and a mountain man, he's a flyweight. Inman, as written, suggests a young Robert Mitchum or the De Niro of The Mission.

Nicole Kidman's Ada  (above) and her slaves (not pictured)
photo: Phil Bray/Miramax films
Nicole Kidman's Ada (above) and her slaves (not pictured)

Kidman could have been a perfect Ada, since, by global consensus, she's the whitest woman in the movies. But Minghella, like many of her recent directors, won't let her be anything but luminous, wartime hardships be damned. Frazier's Ada turns into a mountain woman with severe ladylike trimmings; Kidman's Ada could never break a sweat. Off-screen, Kidman has an adopted African American son and has been romantically linked with Q-Tip and Lenny Kravitz. There are race metaphors lurking in Kidman's recent roles: the working woman in The Human Stain, fallen belle Ada in Mountain, the robotic concubine in The Stepford Wives, and in Lars "The Bitch-Killer" Von Trier's Dogville, a woman repeatedly raped, beaten, and exploited by an entire town. There is something unavoidably "raced" about her being adoptive mother to a black male child. It's almost like something out of a damn Marvel comic: The whitest woman in the movies by day is an African American mama figure by night. If anybody needs to deal with slavery in a film, it's her. If Minghella hadn't punked out on the subject, Kidman's chops and racially involved social life could have allowed her to work wonders with the material.

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