As "Lincoln" continues to vie for the 12 Oscars it has been nominated for this year, some moviegoers can't help from noting factual problems in the film. The latest flaw found in Steven Spielberg's film adaptation of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals" book was spotted by a congressman. And another not-so-gaping hole in Golden Globe winner Daniel Day-Lewis' Lincoln costume has also recently proved problematic.
Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney (Democrat) finally got around to screening "Lincoln" -- in theaters since November 9 -- over the weekend. But when he saw the movie's depiction of the landmark 13th Amendment vote, something seemed weird. The film depicts two Connecticut congressmen voting against the amendment that abolished slavery in 1865. "'Wow. Connecticut voted against abolishing slavery?'" audience members asked, Courtney recalled. "I obviously had the same reaction. It was really bugging me."
Courtney did some investigating and verified his hunch that those Connecticut congressmen depicted in the film -- and two more who weren't portrayed -- were actually key in the passage of the 13th Amendment. Connecticut voted for it across the board.
"How could congressmen from Connecticut — a state that supported President Lincoln and lost thousands of her sons fighting against slavery on the Union side of the Civil War — have been on the wrong side of history?" Courtney wrote in a letter to DreamWorks, urging the movie studio to correct the error before the film is released on Blu-Ray/DVD.
Indeed, it is quite remarkable that the film got it wrong given the effort that was put forth: Spielberg spent nearly a decade trying to get the film made; Oscar-nominated "Lincoln" screenwriter Tony Kushner did extensive research and is said to have followed Goodwin's book to a tee -- though we know better now -- and the film puts a sharp focus on the details surrounding the historic vote. It makes one wonder how the Connecticut vote -- one that's quite easy to verify -- slipped through the cracks.
2/8 UPDATE: Kushner provided a statement to the New York Times offering explanation. It said, in part: "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. 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. In making changes to the voting sequence, we adhered to time-honored and completely legitimate standards for the creation of historical drama, which is what Lincoln is."
Hey, Lincoln Didn't Have Pierced Ears!
One of Day-Lewis' pierced ears seems to appear at the 1:17 point in this trailer:
The L.A. Times has offered some explanation:
Historical movies such as Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" have placed a greater premium on authenticity in recent years, with on-set researchers ensuring that costumes, production design and language accurately reflect the age. Filmmakers, however, have a more difficult time making sure the contemporary appearance of their casts doesn't strain a movie's credibility. As a poor 19th century French factory worker in "Les Misérables," Anne Hathaway incongruously shakes out the shiny, flowing tresses of a Pantene commercial. As a hard-drinking 1970s CIA agent in "Argo," Ben Affleck peels off his shirt to show a torso sculpted enough for a Men's Health cover. As a cigarette-smoking 1940s mafioso's paramour in "Gangster Squad," Emma Stone reveals an improbably pearly white smile. Teeth whitening, plastic surgery, body piercings, weight training, healthful eating and yoga have made it a challenge to find the perfect period performer. Add the unforgiving nature of high-definition video on which more movies are made and seen and the emergence of visually savvy audiences, and you often have a recipe for historical dissonance.
Day-Lewis' ears and the miscast amendment votes in Spielberg's awards season film are rather glaring once pointed out, but other mistakes some have noticed seem less offensive. These are other purported "Lincoln" inaccuracies:
- Spoiler Alert: The scene toward the very end of "Lincoln" that reveals a romance between Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and his African American housekeeper could be misconstrued, "conveying the sense that this relationship was the primary motivation for Stevens’ crusade for the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments," according to a scholar at the University of Texas.
- Alexander H. Coffrot is depicted as having very nervously voted for the 13th Amendment. But, as the same UT history academic points out, he was a pallbearer at Lincoln's funeral -- "indicating that he was more than a simple political pawn of the White House."
- At one point in the film, Spielberg has Lincoln riding among piles upon piles of bodies in a war-torn battlefield following the fall of Richmond and Petersburg. What actually happened: Lincoln was greeted by hundreds of ecstatic, freed slaves.
- One historian contends that Lincoln is given far too much credit in the film for stamping out slavery and that it was a complicated process wherein the abolitionists of the time really made it happen.
- Perhaps a more controversial viewpoint, one academic seems to think that Lincoln was, in fact, a racist. Hmmm.
- Mary Todd Lincoln, played by Sally Field, is not noted in any historical documents as having attended House debates. The film takes artistic license, showing her observing the historic 13th Amendment vote.
While the film clearly includes unverifiable, made-up dialogue of conversations that never happened, on the whole, according to analysis by History News Network, "Lincoln" is pretty darn accurate -- in spite of Day-Lewis' holey earlobes.
Day-Lewis' earring holes also seem visible at 27 seconds into this 'Lincoln' clip:
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