Uncle Tom's Cabin
Reflections of Race and American Culture in the 'Tom Show'
In Martin Scorsese’s 2002 film Gangs of New York, the two main characters—Amsterdam Vallon (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and Bill “the Butcher” Cutting (played by Daniel Day-Lewis)—attend a ‘Tom’ show (a stage adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) in New York City. In this scene, which depicts the end of the ‘Tom’ show, the deus ex machina in the form of Abraham Lincoln descends from the rafters to console the African-American characters (played by white actors in blackface). Lincoln’s presence is met with derision from the nativist audience members, who throw vegetables at the actor playing Lincoln and shout, “Down with the Union!” By staging this scene in a 2002 blockbuster film, Scorsese demonstrated that the ‘Tom’ show was a nearly universal experience in Civil War-era American life, pervading its culture and its politics during and even long after the Civil War. In addition, Scorsese visualized the multiple ways in which Stowe’s novel was adapted and appropriated for the stage, ultimately reflecting the racial, cultural and political tensions of the times.
It is first important to note that Stowe had mixed feelings about adaptations of her novel for the stage. Although she would eventually withdraw her objections, as an...
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