The producers of Wheel of Fortune have issued an apology after a episode in the game show’s “Southern Charm Week” depicted hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White in front of an old-fashioned plantation manor attended by two black women in antebellum dresses whom social media users promptly identified as slaves.
Executive producer Henry Friedman told Entertainment Weekly that the show “regret[s] the use of this background image” and will replace it in future broadcasts. Eentertainment Weekly further reports, via an unnamed source, that the image in question was filmed at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana, for a 2005 Wheel episode taped in New Orleans, and a representative from Oak Alley Plantation told the New York Daily News that the women in question were “tour guides” in period dress but were not specifically portraying slaves.
It seems clear that Wheel’s error was an oversight rather than a conscious distortion, but the real question is why images of a plantation house were included in a week devoted to “Southern charm” in the first place. The women in the show’s backgrounds might not have been officially portraying slaves, but the splendid mansion in front of which they were standing, once the centerpiece of a sugarcane plantation built in the 1830s, would not exist without slave labor. It tends to spoil the mood when one brings it up, which is no doubt why the pages on Oak Alley Plantation’s website devoted to its “family legacy” don’t so much as include the word slave, and Wheel of Fortune’s perpetuation of that comforting myth would have been appalling whether it accidentally put black women on screen or not.