This DVD program consists of three main elements:
- A 50-minute long, accurate adaptation, of the original 1852 George Aiken play
version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. With introductory and concluding remarks by Professor Jiji;
- A 20-minute long 1903 film of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin;”
- A 138 page illustrated sourcebook (PDF file).
1. The National Endowment for the Humanities funded this modern adaptation of George Aiken’s 1852 play in 1983. It uses black actors for the black characters (not white actors in black-face as was the original custom), but is otherwise as faithful as possible to Aiken’s version. To fit within a single classroom period, it omits subplots. This production won Honorable Mention in the Educational Film Library Association’s American Film Festival in New York City in 1984. It continues to receive praise from contemporary Black Studies and Stowe scholars and has been re-mastered for this new release with menus that provide quick, random access to key scenes in the play.
2. Also on this DVD is the rarely seen 1903 silent film of Uncle Tom’s Cabin acquired from the Library of Congress. It was made by Thomas Edison as a demonstration of his new motion picture technology. He chose as his subject one of the most popular entertainments of the day – the ever-present, long-running “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” In contrast with the 1852 Aiken version, this film provides a first-hand look at some of the ways in which the story and characters had changed by 1903. Even just as an historical artifact it is noteworthy for being one of the earliest examples in American film history of a “feature film.” Although this is a silent film, you can follow links on our Resources page to hear recordings Edison cylinder sound recordings of Uncle Tom’s Cabin made at around the same time.
3. Accompanying the videos is a sourcebook with commentary, articles and historical reference materials that can be used to study and understand this important American work. The PDF sourcebook provides many kinds of resources: alternate versions, such as a humorous version of the auction scene – reactions to the play by reviewers and the public from the 1880s to the 2000s – critical essays by specialists in American theater, American history and Black Studies that put the play in historical context – non-fiction and other fictional accounts of slavery by well known essayists and scholars – and teaching aides.
The sourcebook is in three main sections:
- PART ONE sets the play in its dramatic and literary context. What were the literary and theatrical conventions of the day that governed the play? Our scholars explain how Uncle Tom’s Cabin both exemplifies and differs significantly from those conventions.
- PART TWO gives the historical background necessary to appreciate this work.
- PART THREE provides reprints of original materials from the 1830s through 2006, including selected play reviews and non-fiction accounts of slavery, so we can appreciate the relationship between Stowe’s fiction and those factual reports. Important critical responses to the play from black leaders such as Frederick Douglas and James Baldwin are also included.
Finally the sourcebook suggests topics for student reports and other resources for study of this influential work.
The sourcebook has been updated for this DVD release. Further materials have been added since its original version, including an illustrated review of media caricatures of “Uncle Toms” from before and after the invention of movies, a discussion of the Thomas Edison silent film of the play produced in 1903, and comments on Uncle Tom’s Cabin from noted professor of African-American Studies at Harvard University, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who authored an annotated edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 2006.
The sourcebook is delivered as a PDF file on the DVD and, when opened on a computer (using the free PDF reader software from Adobe) can be electronically searched for key words or concepts, viewed on-screen and/or printed out for reading and presentation.
Dr. Vera Jiji is professor emeritus of English and American Drama, Brooklyn College, CUNY. She is the Executive Producer of the Uncle Tom’s Cabin Reconsidered DVD program, including a modern video dramatization of the George Aiken 1852 play version of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the rarely seen, historic 1903 Thomas A. Edison film of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She is also the editor of the 138 page illustrated PDF sourcebook containing over twenty articles, commentaries and historical reference materials that were written between the 1850s and 2006, which is included on the DVD.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin Program copyright © 2010 Vera Mattlin Jiji, Ph. D.
All works in the sourcebook are the copyrighted property of their respective authors. All rights reserved. Neither the DVD nor the sourcebook, in part or in whole, may be copied, redistributed or resold by any means without written permission of the copyright holders, with the exception that teachers may copy and distribute free of charge portions of the sourcebook to their students.