Beloved is a 1998 American horror-drama film based on Toni Morrison's 1987 novel of the same name, directed by Jonathan Demme, starring Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton and Kimberly Elise.

Plot[edit | edit source]

Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

Sethe is a former slave living on the outskirts of Cincinnati shortly after the Civil War. An angry poltergeist terrorizes Sethe and her three children, causing her two sons to run away forever.

Eight years later, Sethe (Oprah Winfrey) lives alone with her daughter, Denver (Kimberly Elise). Paul D. (Danny Glover), an old friend from Sweet Home, the plantation Sethe had escaped from years earlier, finds Sethe's home, where he drives off the angry spirit.

Afterwards, Paul D. proposes that he should stay and Sethe responds favorably. Shortly after Paul D. moves in, a clean, mentally handicapped young woman (Thandie Newton) named Beloved stumbles into Sethe's yard and also stays with them.

Denver is initially happy to have Beloved around, but learns that she is Sethe's reincarnated daughter. Nonetheless, she chooses not to divulge Beloved's origins to Sethe. One night, Beloved (aware that Paul D. dislikes her) immobilizes him with a spell and proceeds to assault him sexually. Paul D. resolves to tell Sethe what happened, but instead tells what has happened to a co-worker, Stamp Paid (Albert Hall). Stamp Paid, who has known Sethe for many years, pulls a newspaper clipping featuring Sethe and tells her story to the illiterate Paul D.

Years ago, Sethe was raped by the nephews of Schoolteacher, the owner of Sweet Home. She complained to Mrs. Garner, Schoolteacher's sister-in-law, who confronted him. In retaliation, Schoolteacher and his nephews whip Sethe.

Heavily pregnant with her fourth child, Sethe planned to escape. Her other children were sent off earlier to live with Baby Suggs, Sethe's mother-in-law, but Sethe stayed behind to look for her husband, Halle (Hill Harper). Sethe was assaulted while searching for him in the barn. The Schoolteacher's nephews held her down, raped her and forcibly took her breast milk.

When Halle failed to comply, Sethe ran off alone. She crossed paths with Amy Denver, a white girl who treated Sethe's injuries and delivered Sethe's child, whom Sethe named Denver after Amy.

Sethe eventually reached Baby Suggs' home, but her initial happiness was short-lived when Schoolteacher came to claim Sethe and her children. In desperation, she slits her older daughter's throat and attempts to kill her other children. Stamp Paid manages to stop her and the disgusted Schoolteacher departs.

Paul D., horrified by the revelation and suddenly understanding the origin of the poltergeist, confronts Sethe. Sethe justifies her decision without apology, claiming that her children would be better off dead than enslaved. Paul D. departs shortly thereafter in protest.

After Paul D.'s departure, Sethe realizes that Beloved is the reincarnation of her dead daughter. Feeling elated yet guilty, Sethe spoils Beloved with elaborate gifts while neglecting Denver. Beloved soon throws a destructive tantrum and her malevolent presence causes living conditions in the house to deteriorate.

The women live in squalor and Sethe is unable to work. Denver becomes depressed yet, inspired by a memory of her grandmother's confidence in her, she eventually musters the courage to leave the house and seek employment. After Denver attains employment, women from the local church visit Sethe's house at the request of her new co-worker to perform an exorcism.

The women from the church comfort the family and they are praying and singing loudly when Denver's new employer arrives to pick her up for work. Sethe sees him and reminded of Schoolteacher's arrival, she tries to attack him with an icepick, but is subdued by Denver and the women.

During the commotion, Beloved disappears completely and Sethe (freed from Beloved's grip) becomes permanently bedridden. Some months later, Paul D. encounters Denver at the marketplace & notices that she has transformed into a confident and mature young woman.

When Paul D. later arrives at Sethe's house, he finds her suffering from a deep malaise. He assures Sethe that he and Denver will now take care of her. Sethe tells him that she doesn't see the point, as Beloved, her "best thing", is gone. Paul D. disagrees, telling Sethe that she herself is her own best thing.

Cast[edit | edit source]

  • Oprah Winfrey as Sethe
  • Danny Glover as Paul D.
  • Thandie Newton as Beloved
  • Kimberly Elise as Denver
  • Hill Harper as Halle
  • Beah Richards as Baby Suggs
  • Lisa Gay Hamilton as Younger Sethe
  • Jason Robards as Mr. Bodwin
  • Harry Northup as Sheriff
  • Jude Ciccolella as Schoolteacher
  • Wes Bentley as Schoolteacher's Nephew
  • Irma P. Hall as Ella
  • Dorothy Love Coates as M. Lucille Williams

Production[edit | edit source]

Prior to Toni Morrison's receipt of the Pulitzer Prize for "Beloved", Oprah Winfrey purchased the rights to the novel in 1987; the translation to film then occurred a decade later.

There was a conflict over screenplay credit with Akosua Busia demanding sole credit and saying Adam Brooks and Richard LaGravenese got too muc, but WGA gave credit to all three. Busia said they were all little more than script doctors.

The filming locations for "Beloved" included a soundstage in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and a field in Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area, in Cecil County, Maryland, at a spot just east of Big Elk Creek and just south of the border with Chester County, Pennsylvania.

In 1998, the State of Maryland compiled a document that included a location-map and photographs of the buildings constructed for the film as they stood in Fair Hill NRMA.

The filming also took place in Montgomery County PA, on the north side of the Schuylkill River with in Valley Forge National Historical Park. Filming locations also included New Castle, Delaware.

In order to prepare for her role as a slave, Oprah Winfrey went through a 24-hour simulation of the experience of slavery which included being tied up and blindfolded and being left alone in the woods.

Lauryn Hill was cast as Beloved, but she dropped out before filming began when she became pregnant. The role ended up going to Thandie Newton.

Beah Richards (Baby Suggs) was in declining health during the film's production and she had to breathe from an oxygen tank between takes. It was her last film role before her death in 2000.

Box Office[edit | edit source]

The movie debuted at #5 at the box office, grossing $8,165,551 during its opening weekend, coming in behind films Practical Magic, Bride of Chucky, Antz and Rush Hour.

Domestically, it made $22,852,487 and couldn't come close to surpassing its budget of $80 million.

Oprah Winfrey has gone on public record stating that she ate 30 pounds of macaroni and cheese when she was informed the Saturday after the movie opened that "we got beat by something called Chucky".

Box office records have shown that the movie remained in theaters into the holiday season, and by December 27, 1998, had grossed $22,746,521.

The film later returned to theaters for two weeks in March of 1999, grossing an additional $1,000.

Critical Reception[edit | edit source]

"Beloved" was given a rating of 78% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 67 reviews.

Oprah Winfrey has claimed that Beloved's failure at the box office was the worst moment in her career and brought her into a major depression, saying, "It was the only time in my life that I was ever depressed, and I recognised that I (was) depressed because I've done enough shows (on the topic). 'Oh, this is what people must feel like who are depressed".

Director Jonathan Demme has commented, "Beloved only played in theaters for four weeks. It made $22 million dollars -- I think that's a lot of money. And the only reason it left theaters after a month was because the Disney corporation that released the picture wanted all the Beloved theaters -- where we were doing very well, in a number of situations. The Walt Disney company wanted those theaters for Adam Sandler's Waterboy. So, we were told that they were gonna bring us back at the end of the year, and they didn't."

Peter Travers from Rolling Stone magazine said the movie "arrives onscreen with a minimum of dull virtue, gagging uplift and slick Hollywood gloss".

The San Francisco Examiner's Walter Addiego said that "Beloved" was "often ovewrought and its sense of its own importance finally wears you down".

In 2013, Winfrey reflected on the film, saying: "To this day I ask myself, was it a mistake? Was it a mistake to not try and make [it] a more commercial film? To take some things out and tell the story differently so that it would be more palatable to an audience? Well, if you wanted to make a film that everybody would see, then that would be a mistake. But at the time, I was pleased with the film that we did because it represented to me the essence of the Beloved book".

Accolades[edit | edit source]

1999 Academy Awards

  • Best Costume Design: Colleen Atwood (nominated)

1999 Acapulco Black Film Festival

  • Best Film (nominated)
  • Best Screenplay: Akosua Busia (nominated)
  • Best Actor: Danny Glover (nominated)
  • Best Actress: Kimberly Elise & Oprah Winfrey (nominated)

1999 Chicago Film Critics Association Awards

  • Most Promising Actress: Kimberly Elise (won)
  • Best Supporting Actress: Kimberly Elise (nominated)
  • Best Cinematography: Tak Fujimoto (nominated)

1999 Costume Designers Guild Awards

  • Excellence in Costume Design for Film: Colleen Atwood (nominated)

1999 Image Awards

  • Outstanding Lead Actor in a Motion Picture: Danny Glover (won)
  • Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture: Oprah Winfrey (nominated)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture: Beah Richards (nominated)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture: Kimberly Elise (nominated)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture: Thandie Newton (nominated)
  • Outstanding Motion Picture (nominated)

1999 Online Film & Television Association

  • Best Breakthrough Performance - Female: Kessia Embry (nominated)
  • Best Drama Actress: Oprah Winfrey (nominated)
  • Best Costume Design: Colleen Atwood (nominated)

1999 Satellite Awards

  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture - Drama: Kimberly Elise (won)
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture - Drama: Thandie Newton (nominated)
  • Best Motion Picture Screenplay - Adaption: Akosua Busia, Richard LaGravenese & Adam Brooks (nominated)
  • Best Motion Picture Cinematography: Tak Fujimoto (nominated)
  • Best Motion Picture Film Editing: Andy Keir & Carol Littleton (nominated)
  • Best Motion Picture Art Direction: Kristi Zea (nominated)
  • Best Motion Picture Costume Design: Colleen Atwood (nominated)
  • Best Motion Picture Score: Rachel Portman (nominated)

Theatrical Trailer[edit | edit source]


Beloved (1998) Trailer

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