Beloved (1998) is one of the most underrated movies of all time and a great ghost story for the Halloween season. No other film captures the beauty of 19th century America as vividly as this film does. Whenever I think about the Flynn effect, I think about Beloved. How people started scoring about 1 or 2 IQ points higher on the Wechsler every decade because of better nutrition and nothing else. The film captures the wide eyed child-like innocence of reconstruction era Americans and unlike other films which show the violence of slavery, this film, set years after slavery, is about how the memory of slavery haunts the former slaves as they try to start a new life.
After reading the entire novel in one sitting, Oprah purchased the movie rights in the 1980s, telling her lawyers to give Nobel Prize winning Toni Morrison whatever she wanted. Oprah, who had built her $2.7 billion dollar empire on shrewd business deals insisted that when it came to this priceless work of art, there’d be no negotiations.
But Oprah soon learned that buying the rights was the easy part. It took ten years for Oprah to find a director. Some felt Beloved (which has been deemed too difficult for university undergrads) was too literary a book to be made into a movie. One director felt it could be a movie, but wanted to decide whether Oprah was right for the lead role.
Finally Oprah struck gold when academy award winning director Jonathan Demme agreed to direct. Sadly, the film got mixed reviews and flopped at the box office and is generally regarded as one of the rare failures of Oprah’s career. Many viewers found it too long and confusing.
Below is an excellent defense of the film by Adam Zanzie which describes the 10 year struggle to get it made.