The Disturbing Truth About 'Eve's Bayou'
Like most people my age, I first saw Eve's Bayou when I was a kid. So at the time, I was too young to understand what was really going on.
Now that I've rewatched the film with older eyes, it's painfully obvious that Lewis Batiste (Samuel Jackson) was sleeping with his eldest daughter, Cisely (Meagan Good).
Looking at the film from beginning to end, I am thoroughly convinced this was the implication all along. Everything is carefully implied, nothing is blatantly stated, and when taken into full consideration, all of it is actually very disturbing.
Eve (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is the descendant of a slave named Eve, who was a witch and had healing powers. Like her ancestor and her aunt, Mozelle (Debbi Morgan), she has the power to read people and to see into the future.
She is also the middle child of three in an old Louisianan family. As a result, she is jealous that her older sister, Cesily, seems to get all her father's attention, while her younger brother, Poe, seems to get all her mother's attention.
The reason for this is actually quite sinister.
Lewis Batiste resents his wife, Roz (Lynn Whitfield) for not letting him cheat on her in peace. She is constantly arguing with him about it, and as a result, he begins grooming their eldest daughter to take her place.
Lewis wants to be doted on despite his abusive behavior and teaches his daughter to do what her mother won't -- to the point of comforting him with sexual favors.
Roz, meanwhile, uses her son, Poe (Jake Smollett) to get the attention from a male that she is not getting from her husband, who spends all his time sleeping around with other women, while doting on their eldest daughter.
Eve, as a result of her parents' silent battle, is ignored by both parents and runs away from the opening party in despair. It is in this way that she discovers her father's affair with Mrs. Mereaux (Lisa Nicole Carson), the wife of his best friend.
Later, when Eve tries to tell Cisely what she saw, Cisely makes up a lie to sooth her. Eve still isn't comforted and turns to Mozelle, who threatens to kill her if she tells anyone.
Mozelle's first priority seems to be protecting her brother and his dirty secrets. She constantly defends him, no matter how awful a human being he is.
When Roz complains about Lewis cheating, Mozelle defends her brother and tells Roz to just give him time to change. This is the worst, most disgusting "advice" in the world, and it's constantly given to women, who are expected to put their own needs aside, put their lives on hold, and wait around for their husbands to stop emotionally abusing them.
In fact, Roz's entire role in the film seems to be to wait. Wait for things to get better. Wait for the evil to pass. Wait three years. In this way, she is depicted as a powerless and helpless victim of patriarchal power structures much in the same manner as her daughter, Cisely.
This is what made Cisely -- who is so similar to her mother -- the perfect victim of Lewis' molestation, rather than Eve, who is a witch and is not afraid to use her power.
The internalized misogyny is strong with Mozelle. It is especially obvious in the way she calls herself "cursed" and blames her evil woman-self for the deaths of her three husbands.
It's my belief that Elzora the swamp witch (Diahann Carroll) hates Mozelle because she senses the self-loathing and internalized misogyny within her. A witch is the very epitome of female empowerment, but instead of using her power to uplift and care for herself, Mozelle has a woe-as-me attitude, where she spends all her time craving the love and approval of a man -- her brother especially.
This is why Elzora (and myself in hindsight) finds Mozelle so disgusting.
Roz gets her palm read by Elzora at the market and is told two things: that her husband is going to die ("sometimes a soldier fall on his own sword") and that she should "look to her children."
When Mozelle has a vision that a child is going die, this seems to confirm Elzora's prediction, and Roz locks the children in the house for the summer, stating that no one can leave until the vision comes to pass.
This is the moment in the film when Cisely starts showing an attitude toward her mother. She talks back, calls her mother's behavior foolish, and starts acting as if she is an adult on equal footing with Roz.
This is clear evidence that Cisely has been spending a lot of time with her bitter father and is clearly parroting cruel things about her mother that Lewis has said behind her back. Cisely has been brainwashed to hate and resent her mother, and in this manner, has been pitted against her.
Lewis' resentment of his wife is clear in the same scene pictured above when he humiliates Roz in front of the entire family by telling her to "get her palm read" and let him do his job.
Cisely is simply imitating her father. Much like Mozelle, she has fallen under Lewis' charms and has developed an internalized misogyny that makes her blame her mother for everything. She sincerely believes Roz is the one at fault and absolves her cheating, lying father of all responsibility and wrongdoing.
Lewis has basically fashioned for himself the perfect, doting wife in his own daughter. He is molding Cisely to be the sort of woman he wants in Roz.
The warning signs continue.
Cisely starts spending long hours in the bathroom alone.
Then one day, she sneaks out to see her father at his office, and immediately after that, she goes to the beauty parlor and gets her hair cut just like her mother. She returns home looking like a little Roz, unapologetic and even arrogant.
Where did Cisely, a fourteen-year-old girl, get the money for a beautician? From her father, who is molding her to become Roz's replacement.
Cisely, being so young, has been brainwashed to believe that she must take her mother's place. She was a confused young girl in the middle of puberty, who was unjustly caught up in her parents' bullshit.
At this point, I believe she was only being molested, which would explain her long hours in the bathroom: it does not take hours to clean up period blood. Cisely was trying to wash away the touch of her father and the guilt, shame, and confusion that came with it.
Roz realizes what's happening and has a kneejerk reaction where she slaps her daughter. She has been pitted against Cisely with the intention that she would blame her and focus her anger on her child.
But Roz knows who is to blame. Later that night, she announces that Cisely will no longer wait up for her father, as it seems to be during these late night sessions that Lewis is grooming his child to become a replacement wife and is probably molesting her.
A confused Cisely starts to cry and runs up to her room. When her father arrives home, she listens as he and Roz have a screaming match. Once the fight is over, she then goes downstairs to comfort her father -- again, having been brainwashed into believing her mother is in the wrong.
Cisely then kisses her father "like a woman" because this is what she's been groomed for all along. It's my belief that this is the point when Cisely is raped by her father. She later tells Eve that he held on to her, kissing her and holding her, and wouldn't let go. When she fought back, he slapped her to the floor, and she doesn't know what happened after that.
The next morning, Eve finds Cisely crying in bed, while her bloody panties lay on the floor. Eve is a child and doesn't understand what she is seeing -- neither did I when I first saw this film. Much like Eve, I was a child and didn't know about the blood that can happen when a woman loses her virginity. So, again like Eve, I assumed Cisely had her period.
I also never quite understood why Cisely flipped out and tried to strangle her sister because Eve threatened to tell their father about it. It just seemed so bizarre for a young girl to act that way over her period.
This isn't Carrie. Young girls don't typically go ballistic over blood and cramps and try to strangle people. Contrary to the sexist stereotypes, we don't howl at the moon and become violent, angry, and irrational once a month.
The fact that Roz was so ready to believe that Cisely had her "period" and wasn't struggling with the loss of her virginity shows her internalized misogyny: Roz was ready to believe her daughter was being randomly irrational and emotional over a little blood rather than open her eyes and see the truth.
Unfortunately, Roz ultimately failed to protect her daughter, which is likely where a lot of Cisely's resentment toward her mother comes from. She doesn't go to Roz when her father is hurting her because she knows Roz won't believe her (a heartbroken Roz is later shocked by the fact that Cisely didn't tell her about her "period.")
This is the reality of most rape victims, who stay silent for long years because they know speaking up will expose them to more harmful and detrimental victim blaming and misogyny.
So Cisely does what most rape victims do: she stays silent and won't speak to anyone. Her father comes to her and has the gall to ask to examine her. Maybe he wants to cover up evidence of what he did. She turns her back and tells him to go away and can't even look at him. If you pay attention to the scene, you will notice Mozelle give Lewis a skeptical look as if she suspects him -- only to smile and succumb to his charms when he smiles at her.
When Cisely's baffled parents asks her what she wants to do, it shouldn't be shocking that she should want to get the hell away from them. Both her parents have abused her. Both of them hit her, one raped her, and the other didn't listen to her or protect her from that rape. Roz tried to protect Cisely, but it was her own blindness to the extent of her husband's true evil that did not enable her to do so.
Eve is the only person who can get Cisely to open up. She tearfully recounts the night her father struck her to the floor, and the way she describes it, Lewis aggressively grabbed her and kissed her and wouldn't let go.
There is no excuse in the world for this behavior. And alcohol will never be an excuse. Alcohol doesn't create behavior -- it gives people the courage to do the terrible things they already wanted to do.
A furious Eve decides her father must die. She goes to the market looking for Elzora and runs into Mr. Mereaux. She pretty much straight-up tells him that her father is sleeping with his wife. This is what really sets the plot in motion, not anything Elzora does later.
Lewis ultimately dies because of his own actions. He screwed over (literally) a man who saw him as a brother, while sleeping with pretty much every woman in town. It was only a matter of time before an angry husband shot him. Eve's comments in the market just sped up the process.
This is why Elzora keeps laughing at Eve: she knows the spell won't work. She basically robbed a little girl of twenty bucks and enjoys cackling about it because she hates the Batistes.
Once Lewis (finally) gets shot, Cisely breaks down crying at his funeral. Now that her father is dead, she has to deal with guilt for hating him, as well as anguish and confusion. To me, it makes sense that she would break down. She was raped by someone she loved and trusted, which is usually the scenario in most assaults. That is a lot for a fourteen-year-old girl to process.
After the funeral, Eve finds a letter that her father wrote to Mozelle. In the letter, it's revealed that Mozelle knew all along that her brother was molesting Cisely and made accusations against him.
Lewis defends himself but at the same time damns himself by revealing that he knew it was Cisely when she came downstairs. It would have been very easy for him to say he was drunk and thought Cisely was his wife. But he knew it was Cisely who was sitting on his lap, kissing him. He even states that he waited for her.
When Eve confronts Cisely, she has decided she no longer believes her sister. This is a purposeful bit of irony considering that Cecily didn't believe Eve in the opening of the film about their cheating father.
Cisely breaks down crying and says their father "hurt her so bad." One slap and a kiss "hurt her so bad"? This is pretty much the scene that thoroughly convinced me this story was about incestuous rape.
Eve uses her powers to read Cisely, but all she can see are confused images of Cisely being slapped to the floor and nothing after. Cisely then continues crying hard as she explains that she doesn't know what happened.
It's entirely possible that Cisely blocked out from being smacked down. When she woke up, she had been raped, and she ran away. This is my take on it. Because all this crying and drama makes no sense otherwise.
Eve decides to believe her sister and that her father was probably covering his ass by lying to Mozelle in the letter.
And why the hell should we, the audience, believe Lewis? He was a liar and a cheater who manipulated everyone around him and stabbed his own best friend in the back. And yet, most people believe he was innocent and didn't deserve to die, while Cisely was just a "fast girl" who got what she deserved for doing what her sick father had trained her to do: comforting him, kissing him, and putting his needs above her own.
Lewis was a rapist who manipulated the women in his family even in death. Mozelle comes to Eve after the funeral with a message from Lewis, "Tell Eve I still owe her that dance."
I mean, if Lewis was willing to lie to Mozelle when he was alive, why wouldn't he lie to her in death and keep pretending he was innocent?
Mozelle idolized her brother, and it was important to Lewis that he be idolized. It is something he even states in his letter to Mozelle. He needs to be seen as a good person, as a great person. This is probably the entire reason he became a doctor.
The reason for his fallout with Roz was that she married him and by her own admission, realized he was "just a man." She stopped seeing him as a hero, and as if he was lashing out against that, Lewis started cheating on her, started molding his daughter into idolizing him in the way he needed.
Lewis' needs and desires always came first before everyone else's, and Mozelle was right on board with living that way. Of course she would believe the best in Lewis. Even in death.
By the end of the film, Eve is a disillusioned girl who knows her father was not a great man but a man.
It's my belief that Lewis did love Eve, probably because she reminded him of his sister, Mozelle. That doesn't make him any less of a rapist.
And it doesn't change what happened to Cisely.
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© 2018 Ash Gray