Hollywood's Revisionist History Page 4 - The Patriot: Mel Gibson strikes again Con't
During the script rewrites, the main character shifted from Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, a real figure from the American Revolution in South Carolina to Benjamin Martin, a sanitized composite of Marion, Elijah Clarke, Andrew Pickens, Thomas Sumter and Daniel Morgan. During their research, the filmmakers learned that Marion had no children at the time of the war. He had slaves, whom he was known to have raped.
Marion had also been a celebrated Indian fighter and had no remorse about it, since he had survived an Indian ambush. Rodat's original opening for the film showed the massacre of French and Indians at Fort Wilderness, led by Benjamin Martin. In the final theatrical cut, the massacre is mentioned, but not shown, and only after Colonel Tavington has been established as the film's villain through his own ruthlessness. The filmmakers needed a sympathetic and marketable protagonist, so Benjamin Martin replaced Francis Marion.
Using Benjamin Martin allowed for more dramatic license such as minimizing the issue of slavery. In today's world of political correctness, it is impossible to do a slavery-period film without making a statement about slavery and not offend someone. African-American filmmaker Spike Lee joined the British in criticizing the film concerning the slavery issue. In an open letter to the Hollywood Reporter, he wrote, 'For three hours, The Patriot ignored slavery I kept wondering: "Where are the slaves? Who's picking the cotton? How convenient was it to have Mel Gibson's character not be a slaveholder?"' In a later interview on the BBC, Lee said, 'You guys should be upset, because the British are portrayed like SS storm-troopers'.
As the filmmakers have reiterated, The Patriot is not about slavery. Adding that issue to the movie would have diluted the movie's focus on the trials of keeping a family together. Had blacks been omitted entirely, the movie would have received much more criticism over the omission of minorities, so the black employees were included. There was some historical precedent for the portrayal of black employees. Though such an occurrence was unlikely in much of the South, it was a plausible circumstance.
Charlotte Selton is a plantation owner, but no emphasis or even reference to her slaves is made and a scene which could have shown some tension at the Gullah camp was deleted. Blanket statements are made about the film's portrayal of slaves based on the main protagonist, just as opinions have been formed about the film's treatment of the British are based on the main antagonist, Colonel Tavington.
A scene in which Benjamin Martin's young teenage sons Nathan and Samuel accompany Martin in a rescue of his eldest son Gabriel has caused controversy. They shoot at and wound British soldiers. What made the timing of the scene more difficult is that the rescue scene is set four years after the opening scenes and yet the same young actors are used.
The audience associates Nathan and Samuel with the ages given at the beginning of the movie where they are somewhere between nine and eleven, rather than adding three or four years to their age when the rescue takes place so they are around twelve to fourteen. No matter the age, the depiction of the involvement of young teenage boys in the Revolutionary War is accurate. They were used as spies, messengers and, in some cases, snipers as young as thirteen. The British used young boys as drummers marching with the troops.
This scene became a small battleground over gun advocacy. The NRA and right-wing right-to-bear-arms groups obviously supported the inclusion of this scene, while liberals and gun control advocates decried the scene as too graphic, setting a poor example, and, though historically accurate, excessive and unnecessary to the film's story. Director Roland Emmerich fought for the inclusion of the scene, which may in part have cost the film a more marketable PG-13 rating.