The most recent film adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, this 1987 Showtime production, directed by Stan Lathan, stars Avery Brooks and Phylicia Rashad, which might be a little bit distracting if you’ve seen Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or The Cosby Show. Still, it’s the only contemporary version available and makes a solid attempt to "reclaim" the novel for modern viewers – mostly by making Uncle Tom less submissive. Make sure you watch it after you read the book; otherwise it’ll be somewhat misleading.
This German version of Stowe’s novel, titled Onkel Toms Hütte, won an award for Best Cinematography at the 1965 German film awards. It’s available on VHS in the United States, and it’s interesting to watch it and think about why a German filmmaker was interested in making an adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the 1960s. Remember, there were no American film versions of it between 1927 and 1987.
There are many different silent film versions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, not all of which are still available, but this 1927 production, directed by Harry A. Pollard, is the classic. More expensive than almost any other silent film, it was advertised as "The $2,000,000 Motion Picture," and its magnificent scale is still impressive today. It focuses more on the Eliza-George strand of the plot than on Uncle Tom himself, and all the characters except Uncle Tom are played by whites wearing blackface makeup.
The earliest film version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and one of the first long silent films (although it’s not all that long – only 13 minutes), this adaptation uses white actors wearing blackface makeup to portray many of the main characters. (There were actually two different films of Uncle Tom’s Cabin made in 1903, but only this one, directed by Edwin S. Porter, still survives.)
An excerpt from the new documentary New England: A Tribute, this three-minute video explains the two main reasons Stowe was motivated to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
A brief excerpt from a documentary clarifying the impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin on pre-Civil War America.
This brief clip will give you a sense of what the first film version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin looked like. Check out Abraham Lincoln’s "cameo" appearance (in an image of the Emancipation Memorial).
Even today, Stowe’s work inspires awe and gratitude for her humanitarian vision, despite its limitations.
In this 1933 cartoon, Mickey Mouse and his friends put on a stage production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Note: this cartoon depicts the use of blackface makeup and contains offensive racial stereotypes. It’s best watched to give you an idea of the widespread culture of "Tom shows" that developed out of Stowe’s novel. (P.S. Get it – "Mellerdrammer" as in "melodrama"?)
This is the classic portrait photograph of Stowe that you’ll see on most book jackets; it’s from sometime in the 1870s or 1880s.
A sketch of Stowe in her youth, based on a drawing by George Richmond.
Nineteenth century stage productions based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin were common after the book’s first publication run; these posters show how four of the main characters would have been depicted. Notice Tom’s cringing posture – it makes us cringe a bit to look at it.
Notice how white Eliza looks. Nineteenth century racist attitudes meant that audiences were more likely to sympathize with her if she had paler skin.
This is the classic way in which Topsy is depicted; many earlier and later images adopt the motif of the dress that’s shorter in the front.
Even though he’s obviously the villain, notice that this image of Simon Legree makes him look noble anyway, because he’s the only one of the four characters on the 1886 stage adaptation posters who is standing tall and straight.
This 1852 title page from the first British edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin includes a drawing from famous illustrator George Cruikshank.
Read the novel online, complete and unabridged, for free – or download it to your computer.
Another site that offers the complete text of the novel for free.
After Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, some white southern slave owners tried to claim that she had exaggerated or invented the evils of slavery. In response, Stowe compiled A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book of facts, documents, and testimony that showed real-life parallels to each of her characters. It was published in 1854, two years after the novel.
This 2005 article by Stephen Metcalf, written for Slate.com’s History Week, reconsiders Stowe’s novel from the perspective of a twenty-first-century reader.
This review of the only contemporary English-language film version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin really gets at the heart of the issues at stake, pointing out that the Showtime movie is "a black man’s interpretation of a white woman’s interpretation of black reality." We recommend that you read this before deciding whether to rent the 1987 production.
This online archive hosted by the University of Virginia is an excellent place to begin your research on Uncle Tom’s Cabin and its historical context.
The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center preserves Stowe’s home and associated library materials and archives.
This site is dedicated to memorializing the life and work of Reverend Josiah Henson, a man who was born a slave in Maryland in 1830, escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad, became a leader among other fugitive slaves in Canada, and wrote his memoirs. Stowe used Henson’s memoirs as one source for Uncle Tom’s Cabin.