James Ivory's Jefferson In Paris

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James Ivory’s 1995 historical drama Jefferson in Paris took place during Jefferson’s tenure as US ambassador to France. It explores the infamous 40-year relationship he allegedly fostered with his young slave: Sally Hemings. The focus of the film was to explore the slave-master dynamic between the two. But Hollywood has been known to dramatize certain elements of history in favor of an entertaining plotline. Is this the case with Jefferson in Paris? Several steps that are required before drawing any conclusions: the film’s portrayal of Jefferson and his relationship with Sally Hemings, in comparison to historical evidence, and then a final evaluation. Jefferson in Paris takes place from 1784-1789 when Thomas Jefferson was serving as a United States ambassador to France, in the wake of the American Revolution. The recently widowed Jefferson (Nick Nolte), however, struck up a…show more content…
There is record that Jefferson invited both Cosways back to Virginia, but none of a marriage proposal to Maria Cosway. (A bit of dramatization took place there.) Moving on, slavery was another important theme of the film, but the truth was slightly stretched in some aspects. For example, one Frenchman, while reading over the Declaration of Independence, says "Are all men created equal, Mr. Jefferson, or should this read 'all white men are created equal'?" His fellow French countryman then adds, "Your revolution appears to be incomplete." This is inaccurate because the scene was set in 1786, whereas slavery would not be outlawed in France until 1791, five years after Jefferson left and it would be reintroduced in 1802 by Napoleon. France is further misconstrued as a racially equal society when Sally’s brother James asks Jefferson for compensation for his services. Again, freedmen were not recognized in France, therefore slaves would have had no place seeking compensation from their
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