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A Review of The Patriot: A Mel Gibson Racist Whitewash That Ignored Slavery

The Patriot
Editorial Credit: Sony Pictures

The Patriot (2000) By Mel Gibson

The Patriot is a wartime drama written by Robert Rodat, who wrote the screenplay for award-winning Saving Private Ryan.

Set against the backdrop of the American War of Independence, the film is about Benjamin Martin, a widowed Captain with seven children whose peaceful family life is disturbed by events that lead to the American Revolution.

Director Spike Lee slammed The Patriot and Mel Gibson for releasing a racist movie, for ignoring slavery with a “sanitized version of history which turns a discreet blind eye to slavery.”


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The Plot

Having previously fought in the French and Indian War, widower Benjamin Martin enjoys a peaceful life on a plantation with his seven children. When South Carolina joins the uprising against the British he tries to resist, desiring to continue an untroubled existence. But his eldest son, Gabriel, eagerly signs up against his wishes.

Gabriel, played by Heath Ledger, joins the Continental army against the British as a dispatch rider, but fast-forward two years we see him return home with war wounds after the British gain control of Charleston.

While Benjamin and his family are nursing battle-wounded soldiers from both the British and American side, the British Dragoons ambush the home and kidnap Gabriel with the intention of hanging him for spy activities.

Patriot Funding Heath Ledger
Editorial Credit: Sony Pictures

During the struggle, Colonel William Tavington, played by Jason Isaacs, shoots and kills Gabriel’s brother Thomas in a rescue attempt before ordering Martin’s home be burned.

Martin and two of his other sons (who he arms with muskets) rescue Gabriel from the British unit, brutally killing many British soldiers with his tomahawk.

Driven by revenge, Martin is forced to desert his pacifist principles and resolves to join his son and returns to the Continental army.

Having gained a ruthless reputation during the French-Indian War, Benjamin is made Colonel and leads the guerilla army and son into battle against the tyranny of the British.

Benjamin is assigned the task of constraining Lord Cornwallis’ troops in the South. His guerilla troops are successful in disrupting the British lines of supply, and seize Cornwallis’s personal property and his two Great Danes.

Gabriel catches wind of the rumors about his father’s involvement during the French-Indian war. When pressed, Benjamin eventually reveals the remorse he experiences about the French soldiers he butchered for committing a barbaric crime against the British, hence his desire for a quiet life on the plantation.

Cornwallis places the blame firmly on Tavington brutality, but grudgingly allows the tyrant to halt Benjamin’s advancements.

The Patriot Mel Gibson
Editorial Credit: Sony Pictures

Tavington learns the identity of militia members, attacking their families and burning their homes. Benjamin’s family escape and seek refuge in a settlement of ex-slaves. It is here that Gabriel marries his love Anne.

Anne becomes one of the townspeople who Tavington orders inside a church to be interrogated on the whereabouts of the militia. Believing they would be freed for the information, all of them (including Anne) perish when Tavington sets the church alight.

When they learn of the atrocity, Gabriel and other soldiers launch an attack on Tavington’s camp. Gabriel sustains a fatal injury in a standoff with Tavington and dies in Benjamin’s arms.

Patriot Funding
Editorial Credit: Sony Pictures

Martin loses his desire to battle further until he his reminded of his deceased son’s sense of duty on rediscovering an American flag he repaired.

He and his militia, along with Continental troops storm Cornwallis at the Battle of Cowpens ending in a fierce head-to-head between Martin and Cornwallis.

Cornwallis inflicts a serious wound to Martin who manages to drive a stake through his opponent’s heart and kills him. Cornwallis retreats after declaring the Continental victory.

Cornwallis finally surrenders to the Continental army and Benjamin returns home with his late wife’s sister, who is pregnant with his child. Members of his militia help to rebuild his family home.

Spike Lee And Other Criticism of Mel Gibson’s Patriot Film

Spike Lee, the “pre-eminent chronicler of black life in America” was the most vocal critic of Mel Gibson and The Patriot. In his letter, Lee wrote that he traveled to see the film with his wife on its opening weekend. “We both came out of the theatre fuming,” he claims. “For three hours The Patriot dodged around, skirted about or completely ignored slavery. How convenient… to have Mel Gibson’s character not be a slaveholder… The Patriot is pure, blatant American Hollywood propaganda. A complete whitewashing of history.”

There were also suggestions that Mel Gibson’s character was based on a slave-owning serial rapist that killed Indians for fun.

Production

The protagonist role was originally offered to Harrison Ford, who declined because he found it “too violent” and that it simplified the American Revolution to one man’s grudge.

The movie was filmed in South Carolina and the unforms were designed with the assistance of the Smithsonian. Lots of attention was paid to detail with the exception of the truth. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Sound, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Score. If the movie were released today, I doubt it would have received any awards.

The Patriot

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