Historical Inaccuracy Taints ‘Lincoln’

Tuesday, 19 Feb 2013 10:53 AM

By James Hirsen

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Voting is now under way and will continue through Tuesday to determine which films and film-related artists are ultimately going to receive one or more of the coveted golden statues that are given out annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
 
Oscar campaigns have become brutal affairs, replete with skilled strategists, opposition research, and multimedia leaks.
 
However, this year politically tinged cinematic content and even some real-life political officeholders may have an effect on the outcome of the Academy Award ceremonies.
 
Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” earlier on looked as if it might become a major Oscar-nabbing vehicle with its grandiose themes and character-channeling lead actor.
 
The Oscar campaign of the film utilized the support of political figures including former President Bill Clinton, who conveyed a huge thumbs-up to the movie at the Golden Globe Awards show as he participated in the entertainment event by providing the intro for the “Lincoln” excerpt. It was reportedly Spielberg who personally requested that Clinton make an appearance at the Globes ceremony.
 
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid held an unprecedented screening of the film for members of the U.S. Senate, and President Obama received a private White House viewing of the movie.
 
Along the road to would-be Oscar dominance, though, the film about the 16th U.S. president hit a major PR pothole. “Lincoln” screenwriter Tony Kushner found himself embroiled in a war of words over accusations by a U.S. congressman that the movie is not historically accurate.
 
Joe Courtney, a Democratic representative from Connecticut, caused a stir when he penned a letter to Spielberg complaining that the DreamWorks movie falsely portrayed some Connecticut House members as having voted against the amendment, which called for the abolition of slavery.
 
Courtney made an appeal to the film's director to publicly acknowledge the mistake prior to the Feb. 24 Oscar telecast and to additionally implement appropriate modifications before the film heads to home video.
 
One scene in question features two Connecticut lawmakers casting votes against the 13th Amendment. Courtney cited the Congressional Record, which indicates that all of the representatives from Connecticut voted in favor of the amendment, and he expressed the desire that “a correction can be made in advance of the film’s DVD release.”
 
Screenwriter Kushner responded in a Wall Street Journal open letter of his own, which acknowledged that the aforementioned scene is not consistent with the historical record. However, Kushner proceeded to defend the changes as part of the filmmaking process.
 
“These alterations were made to clarify to the audience the historical reality that the 13th Amendment passed by a very narrow margin that wasn’t determined until the end of the vote. The closeness of that vote and the means by which it came about was the story we wanted to tell,” the screenwriter explained.
 
Kushner distinguished “historical drama” from actual history. “Here's my rule: Ask yourself, ‘Did this thing happen?’ If the answer is yes, then it's historical. Then ask, ‘Did this thing happen precisely this way?’ If the answer is yes, then it's history; if the answer is no, not precisely this way, then it's historical drama,” he wrote.
 
In a move that will likely please the film's best picture Oscar competitors, on Sunday New York Times Op-Ed columnist Maureen Dowd weighed in on the cinematic accuracy issue, aligning herself with Rep. Courtney in demanding that Spielberg fix the scene in question.
 
Dowd’s article, titled “The Oscar for Best Fabrication,” contended that the need for the erroneous scene to be repaired has become more imperative since Spielberg has decided to provide a DVD of “Lincoln” to any middle school or high school expressing interest in obtaining one.
 
“I think Spielberg should refilm the scene or dub in 'Illinois' for 'Connecticut' before he sends out his DVDs and leaves students everywhere thinking the Nutmeg State is nutty,” Dowd quipped.
 
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Visit Newsmax.TV Hollywood. Read more reports from James Hirsen — Click Here Now.
 

 
 
 
 

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