Spielberg's Movie Lionizes Him for Freeing the
Slaves. But Some Historians Are Now Asking the Shocking Question:
Was Lincoln Racist?
The film currently
taking America by storm begins with a black Union cavalryman pausing
from the slaughter of the Civil War to recite the Gettysburg Address
by heart as the president who gave it trudges past through the mud.
And it ends
with Abraham Lincoln in quiet triumph, his work done in seeing slavery
banned throughout the nation, and the Confederacy of the American
South brought to its knees.
from a discussion with colleagues about giving blacks the vote,
Uncle Abe played by Daniel Day-Lewis heads off to
a night at the theatre with Mrs Lincoln, and a fateful encounter
with assassin John Wilkes Booth.
Spielbergs sweeping epic about the 16th President of Americas
triumph over slavery, won a commanding 12 Oscar nominations last
week and is leading the field for this years Academy Awards,
with Day-Lewis hotly tipped for the best actor accolade.
as every U.S. schoolchild is on the notion of Lincoln as
a towering, morally spotless leader in Americas history, the
Oscar grandees are unlikely to vote against it: it seems almost
treasonous to stand in the way of this lump-in-the-throat, desperately
worthy celebration of the man who has been dubbed the Great
say historians, its portrayal of Americas most revered president
is about as accurate as the notion that an ordinary soldier could
have recited the Gettysburg Address from memory when the speech
only became famous in the 20th century.
Not only, they
say, has Spielbergs lengthy drama grossly exaggerated Lincolns
role in ending slavery, but it has also glossed over the presidents
rather less likeable qualities.
a man of his times, say historians, Lincoln was certainly
by todays standards a racist who used the N-word liberally,
who believed that whites were superior to blacks and who, having
jumped on the emancipation bandwagon rather late in the day, wanted
to pack the freed slaves off to hard new lives in plantations abroad.
To say you
might not pick up on any of this from the almost saintly portrayal
in the film is putting it mildly. Critics have been mesmerised by
Day-Lewiss compelling performance. Meanwhile, political commentators
have even dared hope the film might restore Americans shattered
confidence in their political leaders.
The film is
based on a best-selling biography, Team
Of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris
Kearns Goodwin, which Barack Obama has revealed he read during his
first term as president.
the film rights to the book before it had even been finished, and
handed it to a screenwriter, Tony Kushner, who considers Lincoln
to be the greatest democratic leader in the world.
on just four weeks near the end of Lincolns life when, in
January 1865, he twisted arms and used underhand political tactics
to persuade Congress to approve the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,
thereby formally abolishing slavery across the nation.
and his screenwriter have insisted this film is the definitive account
of the defeat of slavery. We were enormously accurate,
were describing absolutely happened.
have been less impressed than the critics by such assurances. One
after another has risked breaking step with national sentiment by
declaring that Lincoln wasnt quite the great liberator after
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