Congressman and 'Lincoln' Screenwriter Spar Over Historical Accuracy

Friday, 08 Feb 2013 02:41 PM

By James Hirsen

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“Lincoln” screenwriter Tony Kushner is in a continuing war of words over accusations by a Connecticut congressman that the film on the sixteenth U.S. president is not historically accurate.

Democrat Rep. Joe Courtney recently wrote a letter to “Lincoln” director Steven Spielberg, which was released to the press earlier in the week and pointed out that the movie contained some factual errors.

A key scene in the film shows two out of the three Connecticut delegation lawmakers casting a vote against the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery in the United States.

“I could not believe my eyes and ears!” Rep. Courtney wrote.

The congressman cited the Congressional Record, which indicates that all representatives from Connecticut voted in favor of the amendment.

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Rep. Courtney also noted in his letter that he is still hoping that “a correction can be made in advance of the film’s DVD release.”

Screenwriter Kushner responded in a letter of his own, which acknowledged that the scene in question is not consistent with the historical record. However, he proceeded to defend the changes as part of the filmmaking process.

Kushner admitted the following in his letter: “We changed two of the delegation's votes, and we made up new names for the men casting those votes, so as not to ascribe any actions to actual persons who didn't perform them. In the movie, the voting is also organized by state, which is not the practice in the House.”

The screenwriter further explained the reasoning behind the modifications, writing, “These alterations were made to clarify to the audience the historical reality that the Thirteenth Amendment passed by a very narrow margin that wasn’t determined until the end of the vote.”

Kushner distinguishes “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.

The screenwriter’s note contained a bit of sarcasm.

“I’m sorry if anyone in Connecticut felt insulted by these 15 seconds of the movie, although issuing a Congressional press release startlingly headlined 'Before The Oscars…' seems a rather flamboyant way to make that known. I'm deeply heartened that the vast majority of moviegoers seem to have understood that this is a dramatic film and not an attack on their home state,” Kushner stated.

Rep. Courtney declared victory on Friday in a written reply to Kushner.

“I am pleased that Mr. Kushner conceded that his ‘Lincoln’ screenplay got it wrong on the Connecticut delegation’s votes for the 13th Amendment,” Kushner wrote.

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