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Farewell Uncle Tom

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They have finally done it: Made the most disgusting, contemptuous insult to decency ever to masquerade as a documentary. They have been trying for a long time. They started fairly slowly, with "Mondo Cane," a trashy collection of so-called oddities of human behavior that managed to fool a few film critics too stupid to see that most of the scenes were faked. Then they made "Women of the World," which was a great movie if you like to see women wrestling in mud while crypto-Nazis get drunk and cheer them on.

Their next movie was "Africa Addio," and with this one their racism was already out in the open. Their thesis was a simple one: After the benevolent and responsible white settlers were driven out by the Mau-Mau, savagery and slaughter came down upon the land. The lengths they were willing to go for an effect were dismaying. To illustrate how the Africans were killing protected species, for example, Jacopetti and Prosperi set up scenes in which rare animals were slaughtered.

Some of the footage in "Africa Addio" was apparently real, but not a lot of it. And the planned execution of a rebel in the Congo was postponed for 24 hours so that Jacopetti and Prosperi could get there with their cameras and film the death. Some money reportedly changed hands in that case. The film was racist and slanderous enough to provoke a public denunciation from Arthur Goldberg, then our UN ambassador, but that did not prevent it from finding a booking here. And the whole distasteful history of these filmmakers was not enough to keep "Farewell Uncle Tom" out of town.

No doubt this movie is aimed at the "black market." The ads and the spoken narration dwell at length on the evil of slavery, about how Africans were brought to America and mistreated and tortured, and how terrible that all was. The trouble is, the narration is only a cover for the movie's real purpose, which is sadistic.

The movie gloats over scenes of human degradation. And this time there isn't even the excuse of documentary; every scene in this movie was specifically staged. Unfortunately, Jacopetti and Prosperi have been able to find people willing to undergo the humiliation inflicted on them in "Farewell Uncle Tom"; most of the blacks in the film are apparently Africans forced by poverty and need to do these things for a few days' pitiful wages.

This is cruel exploitation. If it is tragic that the barbarism of slavery existed in this country, is it not also tragic -- and enraging -- that for a few dollars the producers of this film were able to reproduce and reenact that barbarism?

Make no mistake. This movie itself humiliates its actors in the way the slaves were humiliated 200 years ago. A man without a hand is photographed shoving mash into his mouth from a trough. Very young girls are mocked in auction scenes. Pregnant women -- women who are really pregnant -- are corralled into a scene about the "breeding" of slaves. The fact that this film could find a booking in a legitimate motion-picture theater is depressing.

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