Julian Abagond: Spielberg’s Lincoln

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By Julian Abagond

“Lincoln” (2012) is a Steven Spielberg film about the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment, the one that freed the slaves. It stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, Sally Field as his wife and Tommy Lee Jones as Radical Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens. Gloria Reuben plays Elizabeth Keckley, Mrs Lincoln’s dressmaker and friend.

The film is based in part on the book “Team of Rivals” (2006) by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Executive summary: “The Help” as costume drama – though Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing as Lincoln.

Best line: When Gloria Reuben says to Lincoln:

White people don’t want us here – any of them. Do you?

Like the “The Help”, Participant Media lists this as one of its films about social action. And like “The Help” it rewrites history as a story about a well-meaning white person, who is not one bit racist, helping blacks by fighting against n-word-using white racists – while blacks largely take a back seat.

While “The Help” had fleshed-out black characters, this film has none. Gloria Reuben comes the closest – she is listed 17th in the credits. In this film about freeing slaves not a single slave appears.

On the other hand it does show black soldiers in the opening scene – so the Helpless Darkies in this one are not quite so helpless.

Although the film takes great pains to make Daniel Day-Lewis look like Lincoln, talk like Lincoln and walk like Lincoln, it whitewashes Lincoln.

In real life Lincoln used the n-word. Spielberg’s Lincoln does not – even though others in the film do.

In real life Lincoln said stuff like this:

… there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.

Spielberg’s Lincoln never says stuff like that. He is for equal rights! This is no longer history, but fantasy. Lincoln was against giving blacks the vote till the last week of his life, and even then it would only be for veterans and the “very intelligent” – Jim Crow stuff.

In real life Lincoln was for ethnic cleansing. He wanted to send blacks away after the war – till Frederick Douglass (not in the film) talked him out of it.

Douglass 11 years after Lincoln’s death said:

President Lincoln was a white man, and shared the prejudices common to his countrymen towards the coloured race.

Racism is not a matter of some misguided whites, like in a Hollywood film. Most whites are not Basically Good, as this film would have you suppose. Most are racist, morally compromised. Lincoln was no different.

What sets Lincoln apart was that he fought against his own racism, against his fallen nature, and did right in spite of it. Instead of giving into it and calling it right. That is the story that went untold. It would be far truer, far more interesting and far more helpful as a model for social action. Instead we get yet another feel-good White Saviour fantasy flick.

Read original story here.

 This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.

Check out this blog entry on Spielberg’s Lincoln movie posted by Racism Review.

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