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.
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 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.