Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971)

Goodbye Uncle Tom (1971) movie poster

directors Gualtiero Jacopetti, Franco Prosperi
viewed: 12/23/2015

The ultimate audacious exploitation film is an utter mind-fuck of a movie.  It’s outrageous and shocking, jam-packed with scenes and images that sear into your brain, a near nonstop barrage of titillation and terror, shock and awe.

Never has there been a film that works so hard to be anti-racist that totally subverts itself into exploitation insanity.  It seems clear that Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi are trying to make a radical anti-racist film, invoking Eldridge Cleaver and LeRoi Jones and the black power movement, while delving into a bizarre pure Mondo attempt to depict a modern day film crew back in the days of slavery, highlighting cruelties and brutality, animalization of blacks by evil naive whites.

The Italian production, filmed in Haiti, features a cast of hundreds in what seems like very exploitative participation.  It’s almost impossible to know from simply watching the film exactly what was going on on the sets but Jacopetti and Prosperi strive for epic disgust and outrage, showing things as they were at the worst in America’s past.  Certainly a lot of their claims and images have truth in historical fact, but it’s such a whacked out and insane approach, shoving things endlessly in the audiences’ faces, it’s hard to analyze each thing on its own and it’s also certainly questionable to sort facts from possible embellishments.

Goodbye Uncle Tom well earns its reputation as one of the most offensive and shocking of all exploitation films.  It’s really hard to affix a star rating to the film.  Its audacity and concept is either utterly bankrupt or alternatively pure genius.  Provocation is baked deeply into the whole concept and it’s executed to the Nth degree.  It’s agitprop at its most effective.  It’s hard to imagine anyone being able to watch this film with a mild response.

But its notoriety isn’t that its message is clearly understood.  Upon release and no doubt today, a lot of people would find this film shocking and offensive and totally racist.  As clear as it was to me that Jacopetti and Prosperi invoke black power and beat the drum of outrage about the true horrors of the past, a just invocation, highlighting the evils of racism, the shock and exploitation totally upends their intention.  The grotesqueries are so lurid that they wind up appearing as racist themselves as the things they mean to depict.

This runs throughout the entirety of the film, a constant through the full 136 minutes.  The atrocity exhibition is nonstop bananas.   Seriously, as bizarre and outrageous as anything I’ve ever seen.

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