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View Diary: Open thread for night owls: Love 'em or hate 'em or just plain indifferent to 'em, it's the Oscars (239 comments)

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  •  The black people in Lincoln are passive... (5+ / 0-)

    ...reinforcing the myth that they were that way in the Civil War instead of being active agents of their own liberation.

    Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Sun Feb 24, 2013 at 10:02:41 PM PST

    [ Parent ]

    •  You don't think that (5+ / 0-)

      the film opening with black soldiers sent the message that they were participating in their own liberation?

      There has been a revisionist campaign to downplay Lincoln having any role at all in ending slavery, so that crowd was naturally upset by this movie. I often heard the argument that the emancipation proclamation didn't free any slaves, which was only true for the day it was issued. I'm glad Spielberg corrected the growing misconception. Distorting history to fit an ideological agenda is best left to the right wing. Ultimately, the movie isn't about the abolitionist movement, ending slavery, or even Lincoln's entire life, but about one episode in a Congress that did not yet allow African-American members.

      •  A revisionist campaign? Eric Foner,... (7+ / 0-) of the nation's pre-eminent historians of the era in question, having won both the Pulitzer and the Bancroft prizes for his The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, is one of the critics. He doesn't say that Lincoln had nothing to do with ending slavery; of course, he did. But, as Foner points out, this was about more than one man and it wasn't just the black soldiers who were engaged in their own emancipation (although that was a crucial factor), it was the resistance of slaves themselves inside the Confederacy after the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect in January 1863.

        Among other errors, Foner points out, is the fact that the impression is given in the film that it was Lincoln who originated the 13th Amendment. He didn't even favor it initially. Once he did, however, he fully backed it. He did not, however, have to spend time arguing with a fractious Cabinet, the product of the "team of rivals" theme most recently popularized by Doris Kearns in her book of that name, whose chapter Spielberg and Kushner used as their template.

        The problem with the depiction of that Cabinet argumentativeness in the film is that by 1865, the rivals have been replaced with men who agree with Lincoln's views on slavery, and the only original ones still on board are the three who agreed with him from get-go. It's a serious distortion, although since it's done with the proper lighting and period accessories, it makes us feel as if we're really there.

        Tony Kushner's claim that what is depicted in Lincoln "absolutely happened"  is ludicrous given the errors of fact (some for dramatic reasons that we can all understand and live with, and some for no good reason at all).

        Besides Foner, Kate Masur has critiqued the film. She doesn't revise Lincoln, rather she revises the revisionists of the late 1800s and early 1900s, who presented slavery as not so bad and Reconstruction a crime against (white Southern) humanity. It's a view that informed American textbooks well into the 1980s, even though fresh scholarship began trashing that perspective in the 1950s. That pro-Southern revisionist view is given some credence in the depiction of supporting characters in Lincoln, like Thaddeus Stevens.

        So, yes, distorting history to fit an ideological agenda is best left to the right wing. Critiquing the film for these inadequacies is not right wing.

        None of this is to say Lincoln is a horrible film. It's far from that, and Daniel Day-Lewis is brilliant.

        Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

        by Meteor Blades on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 12:21:07 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Not quite sure how the portrayal of Thaddeus (0+ / 0-)

          Stevens is pro-Southern revisionist. From what I've read of him Stevens was pretty progressive for his time. Can you elaborate?

          •  Stevens is presented,... (0+ / 0-)

            ...especially in his basement talk with Lincoln is an extremist, the kind of fellow who would provoke violence via Radical Reconstruction. In fact, the postwar violence got started by Southerners before the Radicals were in charge. See Masur:

            When Thaddeus Stevens and Lincoln meet in the cellar of the White House to talk about cooperating on the 13th Amendment, for example, Stevens says that after the war, land owned by ex-Confederates should be divided into small tracts to be settled by a free people. Lincoln says "the people" will not support that. Stevens says "I shit on the people!" He represents them in Congress, he says, but he doesn't care what they think. On the one hand, this scene alludes to the reality that northerners probably wouldn't have favored confiscation of Confederates' land. On the other, by making Stevens look like a dangerous extremist and an autocrat, the film reiterates the interpretation of Reconstruction offered up by Birth of a Nation and the now-discredited "Dunning school" of academic scholarship. According to that interpretation, it was the radical Republicans who posed a threat to the peace—not the recalcitrant white South—and had Lincoln lived, we would have avoided all the ugliness of Reconstruction.

            Later scenes in Lincoln affirm that fantasy. Lincoln rides past bodies of Confederate and Union soldiers mingled together on the Petersburg battlefield. He is moved by what Tony Scott earlier called "the terrible tragedy that pitted brother against brother" and immediately afterward tells Grant to go easy on the Confederates. As Lincoln departs for home, Grant tells him he must now lead the nation into peace. We all know that Lincoln won't make it, so we mourn for him and all that we imagine he would have done to avert the bloodbath of the postwar period. Then comes the assassination and the Second Inaugural.

            As historian Nina Silber put it: "As the movie ends, we are presented with a nation ready to live under Lincoln's charitable and malice-free directive."

            The real history of the months after Appomattox contradicts this "reconciliationist" narrative. White southerners' continuing malice became clear in 1865 and early 1866, well before "radical Reconstruction" began. As President Andrew Johnson generously pardoned all but the highest-ranking ex-Confederates, white southerners in the states rejected the 13th Amendment, passed state-based "black codes" that sought to restore slavery in all but name, and elected ex-Confederates to state and federal offices. It wasn't the federal government's unbending stance toward the white South that brought forth a reign of terror; it was white southerners' own refusal to come to terms with black freedom.

            Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

            by Meteor Blades on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 08:00:24 AM PST

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            •  Bad argument. (0+ / 0-)

              Yes, there's a lot of hogwash about Reconstruction pushed by southern historians. That doesn't mean we should deny the realities of history and create new distortions to refute them, which is what this writer is doing.

              Sherman did act to divide up confiscated plantation lands to freedmen. A conversation about this between Stevens and Lincoln may not have happened the way the movie portrays, but the character of Stevens is being used to represents a viewpoint that many people held. It's a direction Reconstruction really could have taken.

              And even though they were often thwarted, there was the "Radical Republican" Congress who wanted to take a punitive approach to Reconstruction and Stevens was one of its leaders. There are quotes suggesting Lincoln would have taken a more charitable approach to Reconstruction than what was advocated after his death by Stevens and Congress. The film very accurately portrays the conflicting views that existed at the time.

              •  We'll have to respectively disagree about this... (0+ / 0-)

                ...I'm in the Eric Foner, Kate Masur camp on this. Obviously, some other historians are not in their camp.

                Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

                by Meteor Blades on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 09:54:31 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  It happened. (0+ / 0-)

                  It's where the 40 acres and a mule promise came from.

                  Andrew Johnson rescinded the order giving the confiscated lands of confederates to freed slaves.

                  Andrew Johnson also vetoed the Freedman's Bureau Act pushed by Stevens, which started the showdown toward Johnson's impeachment.

                  The film very accurately portrayed the central conflicts that existed after Lincoln's death. It would be dishonest to pretend those arguments didn't exist just because a group of southern historians vilified Stevens and Reconstruction. I disagree with the historian who believes that showing Stevens fighting for the government to do more for freed slaves is somehow a negative portrayal. I thought it painted him as a hero.

        •  What's your point? (0+ / 0-)

          Yes, there are many criticisms of Lincoln. It's a historical drama, not a documentary, and there are errors beyond the ones you bring up. The scenes about Lincoln's relationship with his family are based on best-guesses and a little speculation, as are the details of Lincoln pressuring Congressmen.

          I don't remember distortions about the cabinet in the movie. There were references to arguments over the Emancipation Proclamation, but that happened earlier in time when more of the original cabinet was still in place. The movie did feature a former cabinet member who Lincoln had to convince to support the amendment so I'd argue the film gave a very accurate portrayal of Forner's point that some disagreeable cabinet members had already left.

          I don't understand how the portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens promotes the Southern spin on slavery and Reconstruction. Most Americans have no idea who he is and this movie gave a mostly favorable, sympathetic introduction. A Southern view would have painted Stevens as a villain.

          There are plenty of valid criticisms but I think those historians were trying a little to hard. It's a short movie about a small episode in history. I realize portraying Lincoln's role in ending slavery refutes those on the left who think electoral politics is a waste of time, and that's where some of the criticism is coming from.

          I can't blame Spielberg for not trying to fit the abolitionist movement into this film, but I do criticize him and the rest of Hollywood for not making films about some of the exciting stories of the abolitionists and other movement leaders. Those stories would have to be in another film and those films aren't being made.

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