First, I have to say that I am incredibly glad to have had the opportunity to have been learning about African American history all semester before my viewing of the new film Lincoln. Not only did it help me to understand important themes presented on the screen and recognize important historical events and characters, but it also helped me to look at the movie from a critical eye and to evaluate the cinematographic representation of a dark, scrutinized portion of American history. I believe that Spielberg had moments of brilliance in presenting this historical moment, but also did it injustice and portrayed some aspects of the era incorrectly.
I was surprised by a few things in the movie to say the least, but overall have only one major criticism: that they portrayed Lincoln in too godly of a manner and didn’t adequately address some of the conflicts he was dealing with as a President and some of his own, questionable racial ideals.
Interestingly the movie opens with two black soldiers speaking with Lincoln and sharing their desires for increased wages and fair treatment within their ranks. Immediately two clearly comedic, juvenile, white soldiers approach Lincoln and are dismissed due to their lack of substance in talking to Lincoln and in merely reciting back to him words from one of his speeches. I felt this was an interesting contrast that I haven’t quite figured out yet.
Also, I was surprised by how much of the movie focused on the legislative battle for the 13th amendment. I feel like it was presented in a dramatic, yet realistic light. Ideas thrown around that were stimulating during the movie were mainly opinions of different house members as expressed during their meetings. The concept of compromise was presented several times throughout the movie and was crucial in convincing even slightly racist voters to back the 13th amendment, as leverage to end the war. Lincoln himself powerfully says “compromise or you risk it all.” Many characters in the movie also expressed their concern, not for the passing of the 13th amendment, but the universal enfranchisement that could follow for black people in the United States. Lincoln, representing the truth and necessity for freedom, combatted this idea by saying “forget what comes after freedom, freedom needs to come first.” Overall, it was really great movie and encouraged me to consider many different perspectives on the issues we discussed in class.
So, whether you’ve seen the movie or not, do you think it is appropriate to portray Lincoln with a god-like aura or to show him sticking up for freedom over all else supporting the rights of blacks with no reservations or hindrances? Do you think it’s fair to present Lincoln and the white people working for him as the workhorse that got the 13th amendment passed without recognizing any black voices in the issue? Would it have even been possible to present this historical moment accurately or without offending anyone?