Uncle Tom’s Cabin

New DVD Released for the Civil War Sesquicentennial and the
Harriet Beecher Stowe Bicentennial

Uncle Tom's Cabin: Eliza escaping across the frozen river, chased by slavers and dogs.

Eliza escapes across the frozen river.

Teachers, students, history buffs and church study groups alike will benefit from this comprehensive program. It contains videos of two different staged versions of the play plus a 138 page illustrated PDF source book of reviews, articles and original source materials.

This updated DVD — designed by teachers for teachers and students — puts the novel and play into its proper literary, theatrical and historical contexts.

Simon Legree confronts Uncle Tom in the modern staging of George Aiken’s 1852 play version on our DVD.

First up is a 50-minute modern re-staging of George Aiken’s 1852 dramatization of the novel. This is the theatrical stage version most true to Stowe’s original novel. Our adaptation of Aiken’s play won an award from the division of the Educational Film Library Association at the American Film Festival, and has received accolades from contemporary Stowe scholars and Black Studies professors.

Play versions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, “the world’s greatest hit,” were seen by millions of people in this country and abroad. Yet across the six decades of its unprecedented and unmatched popularity, the many competing stage versions debased the story and its characters. This gave rise to, and widely disseminated, many demeaning and damaging racial stereotypes; stereotypes that became embedded in our popular culture and society, and with which we still live and struggle today.

Tom and Eva in the Garden - 1903 Edison Film Version of Uncle Tom's Cabin

Cakewalk from 1903 Thomas A. Edison film version of Uncle Tom's Cabin on our DVD.

The DVD also includes the rarely seen Thomas Edison silent film of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, produced in 1903. The modern re-staging of Aiken’s 1852 play gives us a true understanding of Stowe’s story and characters. By comparison, the Edison film provides insights into some of the ways in which it changed and devolved over the many following decades of its wild popularity.

Anyone studying Uncle Tom’s Cabin, American Black History, religion in 19th century America, or the history of race relations in America, will benefit simply from watching and comparing these two staged renderings of Stowe’s classic tale. But the DVD also contains an invaluable collection of historical and contemporary theatrical materials.

Included on the DVD as a PDF file, this 138 page illustrated source book, originally produced under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, discusses the novel and different play versions. It has 27 articles, essays, analyses and reviews that set the play in its dramatic and literary context, and provide historical background. It also contains reprints of original materials dating from the 1830s through 2006.

Uncle Tom's Cabin: Little Eva Ascends to HeavenIt includes authoritative studies such as Prof. Elizabeth Ammons’ “Stowe’s Black Maternal Christ,” and Daniel Gerould’s reflections on melodrama. Historical essays place Uncle Tom’s Cabin in its context in the 1850s and beyond. The script of a “humorous” version of the auction scene, similar to that shown on the Edison film, is reprinted. Selections from primary materials by, among others, Josiah Henson, Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. DuBois, James Baldwin, David Pilgrim and Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. are included.

Reconsidered and studied together, these materials from 1850 to 2006 give readers first hand, non-fictional and theatrical representations of slavery. Discussed too are the many contrasting depictions of stereotyped characters like Uncle Tom and Topsy that still so deeply affect American life. Although the play disappeared after sixty years, its influence continues to pervade American culture and society.

We can’t know where we’re going unless we know where we’ve been. The historical importance and modern relevance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin are indisputable. As much as at any time in our past, it needs to be studied and understood.

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