Lincoln Extra Credit
As I watched Lincoln, I couldn’t help but be struck by the honest attempt to portray the 16th president and the tumultuous last months of the Civil War. Lincoln seemed funny at times, deeply troubled and burdened by leading the country through some of its worst times ever, and also a grieving father and husband.
But what struck me most was what I thought was the parallel between the freedom and rights of freed slaves back in 1865 and today’s struggle for most LGBT equality. Tony Kushner, the screenwriter, was the author of 1993’s Angels in America, a ground-breaking play that addressed gay and lesbian issues in a very different time (even just twenty years ago) that shocked America. Back in 1993, people were still afraid of AIDS victims and spurned those who were HIV positive. Today, gay and lesbian couples struggle for marriage equality, have been turned down for adoption, and are still the victims of harassment and bullying. The Laramie Project, a play about the life of Matthew Shephard, a gay man who was tortured and killed for his sexual orientation by two straight men, was just at Seaholm a few weeks ago and has had such an impact on the lives of Americans that Matthew’s mother believes that the play has saved more people than all of the hate crime laws in the country.
Another thing that I was struck by was the blatant vote-courting done by the men hired by Seward who twisted Democrats’ arms and practically bribed these Congressmen with government jobs (like postmaster of _______, Ohio) in order to get the needed 2/3 number of votes to pass the 13th Amendment. Part of me was not surprised by these strong-arm tactics, because I know that this was (and is) how things were done, but part of me was startled because I wanted to preserve this ideal that I’d had about Lincoln as being above this kind of political wrangling. But the one thing I have learned over the years was that Lincoln was not above using politics as a means to his ends, whatever they may have been at the time. He had promised to gradually emancipate slaves in the border states (even suggesting monetary compensation for slaves) so that they would stay in the Union. This never happened.
A third thing that struck me was the word play and rhetorical sparring in Congress. Many of those exchanges were funny and enlightening with regards to the way politics played out in the 1860s. Today’s Congress doesn’t conduct itself like this today (but watching the face-to-face barb flinging in the movie, it’s no surprise that Charles Sumner was beaten by South Carolinian representative after Sumner “insulted” the South’s honor). I loved Thaddeus Stevens, the radical Republican from Pennsylvania, who was willing to compromise his desire for full rights for freedmen to get the greater goal of slavery abolished. Also, I don’t know if the final scene with him is true (no spoilers here!) though Wikipedia and other sources have confirmed it.
A fourth thing that really opened my eyes was the troubled relationship between Lincoln and his son, Robert, with Robert’s anger boiling over at not being allowed to fight in the Civil War (and instead enrolled at Harvard). I wonder if Lincoln didn’t allow his son to fight because of his own fears of Robert’s death (knowing that he’s already lost two sons, Eddie in 1850 and Willie in 1862) or Mary’s own fragile psyche which could fracture with another death (and probably did with Abe’s death in 1865). Though the oldest, Robert seemed neglected by his father when he comes to visit for the “shindee” after his father’s re-election. There were scenes that showed Robert being ignored by Lincoln, but by contrast Tad gets all of his father’s love. One of the more touching scenes was when Lincoln cuddled up with Tad on the floor who had fallen asleep playing war with toy soldiers. I was also surprised to see Lincoln slap Robert when Robert wouldn’t let his duty to fight drop. These scenes made Lincoln seem like a real person with flaws and fears.
The last thing that I took away from the movie was the battle over giving the slaves equal rights once the 13th Amendment would be passed. What would be the point of freeing slaves if they weren’t citizens of the nation that had freed them? What’s the point? No voting? No civil rights? This was a preview of what Reconstruction would become: a battle over guaranteeing the rights for freed blacks vs. preserving white supremacy.
Please provide your insights about the movie. You can respond to any of my five insights or share your own after you’ve seen the movie. If you find an interesting movie review, please include the link / url in your blog response. Minimum of 200 words. Due by Monday, Dec. 10th at the beginning of your class.
http://movies.nytimes.com/2012/11/09/movies/lincoln-by-steven-spielberg-stars-daniel-day-lewis.html?_r=0 – an interesting look at how the actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, developed his speaking voice for his part as Lincoln, and the back and forth between writer Tony Kushner and Lewis as to what phrases and words would be used in the movie.
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/11/16/tony-kushner-at-hero-summit-obama-likes-new-lincoln-movie.html – brief article about the screenwriter’s meeting with Obama after he watched Lincoln for the first time.
http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2010/10/14/can-angels-in-america-soar-again.html – A 2010 article about Kushner’s Angels in America plays.