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Hump Day Have Your Say: Steven Spielberg’s Revisionist History



By now most people have had a chance to view Spielberg’s Lincoln.  If not feel free to read our enlightening review.  However, this article is not so much about the film as it is Spielberg’s use or revisionist history in the film.  For example, the film’s opening sequence with soldiers repeating the Gettysburg Address is pure Spielberg syrupy fiction.  Sadly, the film offers few scenes of African-Americans being involved in the abolitionist movement.  Sure we get to see some maids and soldiers in subservient roles.  These roles often provide a wink and a nudge that there is more going on beneath the surface.  But where is any mention of African-American abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass?  It’s not as if Douglass had not met Lincoln and pushed him for emancipation.  It seems that in an effort to promote the idea that Lincoln is a savior Spielberg chose to gloss over facts to push his feel good narrative.  Lincoln was a complex and pragmatic politician whose views on slavery evolved over time.  However, you will not see much of that side of Lincoln in the folksy portrayal in the film.

Received Lincoln's walking stick, from Mary Todd Lincoln after the Presidents death


Another aspect of the film that I took issue with was Spielberg’s decision to have this film released after that last Presidential Election.  Spielberg felt that the film would stir emotions and political debate during the election and released the film two days after the contest was completed.  First of all that takes some cojones to think that your film is going to somehow sway people’s feeble minds about who they planned on voting for.  More importantly, I find it odd that a film that is based on a turbulent time in American history, that is filled with class conflict, divergent opinions about the role of government, and the role of race in society would choose to stick its head in sand and try to avoid conflict.  Spielberg has been quoted as stating that he felt viewers of the film would be confused about the roles of the political parties in the film.  He thought that those watching the film would not understand that Democrats at the time were against equal rights and Republicans at the time were more of an abolitionist party.  He must be making the assumption that people are unaware of the shift in the political parties membership following the civil rights movement and in particular LBJ’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  LBJ went so far as to state that “I know the risks are great and we might lose the South, but those sorts of states may be lost anyway.”


My Great Great Grandma's brothers didn't give their lives killing racist rednecks so Spielberg could cover it up

My last issue with this film may be the worst travesty of all.  Spielberg in his wisdom chose  to change the names of those members of the house of representatives who voted against ratification of the 13th Amendment.  While Spielberg claims this was done to spare embarrassment to living relatives of those members, I question his rationale.  Why cover up for racists slave lovers one hundred and fifty odd years after the fact?  Have not their living relatives already worked to make amends for being on the wrong side of history?  Who elected Spielberg arbiter of how much truth movie goers can handle?  My relatives fought and died to abolish slavery and preserve the union.  Who is Spielberg to cover up for those who decided that African-Americans are less human than the rest of us?


So today’s hump day question is how do you feel about Spielberg’s revisionist history in the film Lincoln and why isn’t Spike Lee upset about it?   Just joking Spike, you know we love you.




Comments on this entry are closed.

  • scottydynamite January 30, 2013, 5:36 pm

    Adam was this a documentary or a movie?

    Lincoln had so many policies you could do a movie about but I think this film was strictly about the passing of the 13th Amendment and what was going on his life at that time and how it went down. Leaving out Frederick Douglass was probably not wanting to disrespect a man with a bit part, people would have more issues with it if he was a small part in this film, imo.

    I think Speilberg is a donkey for the most part and not releasing the film for political reasons is a high and mighty attitude that he does not deserve or get from me.

    I honestly do not think that if you asked 1000 people before the movie who wanted slavery and who did not, I think most would guess republicans wanted to keep it, as sad as that may be.

    • mummbles January 31, 2013, 7:50 am

      Adam was this a documentary or a movie?

      Great Point, it never claims to be 100% true.

      ON the other hand I feel changing the names was unnecessary but I feel some points you bring up are a tad picky, I enjoyed the piece of fictionalized history for what it was.

      • Adam January 31, 2013, 10:42 am

        Mumbles I hear what you are saying although at times this seemed like a documentary or maybe felt like I was watching C-Span with a hangover, however it was a movie.

        I just feel that Spielberg needs to trust his audience not hit them over the head to make a point or omit things that he thinks might be difficult or unpleasant to grasp. Maybe he’s become to paternalistic.

    • Adam January 31, 2013, 10:34 am

      Scott, while I was not expecting 100% accuracy I expected a bit more with regards to Lincoln’s evolution on the subject of slavery. It was touched on that he initially wanted to save the union if it freed all the slaves or none of the slaves. However, his plan to ship the freed slaves to Hati, Panama and other places. The people who helped sway Lincoln’s thinking at least in part were black abolitionists who met with Lincoln on more than one occasion. Douglass reportedly blew up at the President at a visit to the White House when the subject was discussed.
      I know films such as this take liberties with the truth, such as Mary Todd sitting in and watching debates of the 13th Amendment or how Lincoln looked on his death bed. However, I think the film really simplified the complex nature of Lincoln’s evolving thoughts on emancipation and most importantly the role of black abolitionists. Maybe if they had included a portion of Frederick Douglass’s 1876 speech at the Freemen’s monument as an epilogue I would give the omission a pass.

  • Sir Phobos January 30, 2013, 7:41 pm

    I haven’t seen Lincoln, but if the stuff you bring up is true, it’s kind of sad. I mean, most of the time, Spielberg is a master at getting emotional responses, but at the same time, he tries to appeal to as many people as possible. Sometimes, it makes his movies worse.

    The endings of A.I. and War of the Worlds come to mind. Obviously, it’s not the same kind of gripes you have with Lincoln, but I think he might have had similar motives in the name of making the movies more “feel-good” or whatever. I guess the only difference here is that we’re dealing with true events that have a great deal of impact on society as opposed to giant alien machines using people as mulch.

    • Adam January 31, 2013, 10:38 am

      Sir Phobos, I think you might be onto something with regards to Spielberg. His desire to craft heartwarming tales that offend none of the audience have caused him to lose much of the mojo that originally made his films entertaining. To me at least the older Spielberg gets the less he trusts his audience to have the ability to interpret nuance. For this reason he coats his films in syrupy goodness till you choke on it.

      • Sir Phobos January 31, 2013, 12:37 pm

        Old Spielberg is awesome. Shit, just take Close Encounters. It’s about a guy who abandons his family because aliens have imprinted something in his brain. That’s it.

        • Adam January 31, 2013, 1:26 pm

          I guess we should both say we like Young Spielberg its the current Old Spielberg we have issues with. ;-)

          • Sir Phobos January 31, 2013, 3:10 pm

            Munich is actually the last thing of his that I really liked. I still want to see Lincoln for myself, though.

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