Moving Midway Reviews
The image we have of the antebellum South is primarily created by two places--Virginia and Hollywood. In the book of [i]Gone With the Wind[/i], Margaret Mitchell makes quite clear that Tara is not so stately as the old plantations of Virginia, or even the coastal plantations of the Carolinas. Georgia was the frontier when Tara was built, and it's clear in context that Tara is not as dignified a house as those Miss Ellen would have known in her childhood. And Midway Plantation, the subject of today's film, was much more like Book Tara than Movie Tara. It is a lovely home, but smaller than we imagine, when we imagine plantation houses. The land grant upon which the house was built was issued by the Crown, decades before there was a United States, though the house itself was not built until the 1840s. It would not have been the most impressive home in its neighbourhood, but the important thing is that it still stood.
And it had stood on the same spot from the day it was built until 2005. Raleigh, North Carolina, was growing, and the old Big House was now facing onto a highway where tens of thousands of cars passed every day. Godfrey Cheshire III chronicles the work of his cousin, Charlie, to move the house onto a new piece of land, having sold the old land so that there can be a Target and a Home Depot and so forth. As Godfrey begins work on the film, he reads a letter in the [i]New York Times[/i] from someone named Robert Hinton--Hinton being the original family line before the last male heir died. So he contacts Robert, and, yes, they're cousins. Through Robert, he meets a whole group of blacks who are descended from the Hinton family and who have a connection to Midway Plantation themselves. The stories of the white and black families are woven together with the story of the building and its own history. And, yes, the house is moved across the fields and away from the road--as are the outbuildings.
Finding Robert Hinton was the best thing Godfrey Cheshire III could have done for this film. It isn't just adding the story of the family's slave history--his adorable little old mother talks about how she's sure her family treated their slaves well, because the whole family is just so nice--but it is adding a much-needed dose of cynicism. The white members of the family have a romanticism attached to the place which Robert Hinton decidedly lacks. As a child, he wanted to pave the entire state; he has calmed about that some. He is willing to let his cousins preserve their house and not complain, but he's happy that the shopping center is going in over the land. He has no sense of pride in it; Godfrey asks why, and he says that he never had any ownership in it. Godfrey says that he doesn't, either, but of course the point is that he could have. In some states, it was actually illegal to give land to black people.
There are people across the country coming to terms with the fact that they have relatives they weren't expecting. Godfrey's great-aunt regaled them with family history when he was a boy, and her spirit is still said to haunt the family house. (A postscript indicates that her spirit did not move with the house. Things are flying off the shelves at the box stores.) She stressed the importance of blood; Godfrey ties her into Thomas F. Dixon, Jr., author of [i]The Clansman[/i], with a similar obsession with purity of blood. And yet, of course, that only seems to count for certain people when they're ensuring that black men don't marry white women; across the United States are enormous numbers of people who owe their mixed ancestry to white men sleeping with their slaves. It wasn't talked about in polite society, but it happened all the time. Only now is a connection being made between the children of the white women and the children of the black women. And in this family, they all seem to have inherited the nose.
Much of what we see in this movie can be considered symbolic of the wider world. History is paved over and made into a shopping center. Which is actually named after the plantation, much to the dismay of quite a lot of the local black community. I don't know whether it's positive or the ultimate insult that one of the housing developments built in the area is named after Mingo, the slave of the person to whom that long-ago land grant was issued. This after the only thing which prevented the bulldozing of the cemetery where he is probably buried was getting the state involved. (Once it's declared an official cemetery, you can't develop on it.) What's more, the buildings they put up on the land look just like buildings all over the country. There is no attempt at regional character. Never mind that, in some ways, regional character is making buildings fit their climates better. Never mind any attempt at history. History is paved over, and the family ghosts are haunting Bed, Bath, and Beyond.
Cheshire became fascinated in his family history once he learned that a North Carolinian relative, Charlie Hinton, would attempt to move an old plantation house to another lot while it was still in tact. This feat of engineering consists of hoisting the house onto rods of steel and then, by truck, carrying it away. Why the trouble? Modernization. The Hinton family was concerned by the highways and large chain stores moving into the neighborhood, and therefore they sought out quieter locale. Considering the rate that those Starbucks pop up, hopefully the Cheshires won't have to repeat the task in a few years.
The discovery of Robert Hinton is perhaps the most fascinating story in the film. Robert Hinton, an African American, teaches African Studies at New York University. The contrast between such a powerful African American figure and the plantation is fascinating, and it allows for a sort of reconciliation for the Hinton's family exploitative history. The film is sentimental, but it's very sweet and highly relevant to our recent election. It's as if it's a release of the so-called "white guilt" that the Hinton's might have faced.
There are some more interesting scenes regarding race in a film that celebrates a plantation. The best scene in the movie is when Robert Hinton observes a Civil War reenactment. It is, of course, quite odd that the enthusiasts seem to have forgotten what the Civil War was all about - it becomes a game of role playing rather than a ceremony respecting the dead and the progress of our country. Robert, however, says he's fine with it as long as the outcome continues to remain the same.
"Moving Midway" is competently constructed, and it's clearly a film that will continue to mean a heck of a lot for the Hintons for years to come. For all of us unrelated, however, it's quite dull and overly-sentimental. The film is available on NetFlix Instant View.