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November 2012

But it’s disappointing that in a movie devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery in the United States, African-American characters do almost nothing but passively wait for white men to liberate them. For some 30 years, historians have been demonstrating that slaves were crucial agents in their emancipation; however imperfectly, Ken Burns’s 1990 documentary “The Civil War” brought aspects of that interpretation to the American public. Yet Mr. Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ gives us only faithful servants, patiently waiting for the day of Jubilee. This is not mere nit-picking. Mr. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” helps perpetuate the notion that African Americans have offered little of substance to their own liberation. While the film largely avoids the noxious stereotypes of subservient African-Americans for which movies like “Gone With the Wind” have become notorious, it reinforces, even if inadvertently, the outdated assumption that white men are the primary movers of history and the main sources of social progress.

  Kate Masur

She’s an associate professor of history at Northwestern University, and wrote this review of the film Lincoln for The New York Times. Quote above is an excerpt.

This review is why I will be skipping the film. (Actually, I was already not too interested in going.) Sure, Steven Spielberg is a great director. I actually like some of his films. He’s talented. Sure, Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Fields are great actors. But this is not about who is “talented” or not. That’s really not the point. (For some reason, possibly a part of the annoyance that is the theory of American “exceptionalism,” being “talented” is license to do whatever someone wants without contextual repercussions.)

Hollywood films are often propagandist and seek to whitewash and alter history (or reinforce stereotypes, or both) under creative license and do so for a viewing public that is grossly uneducated about the facts (and process many films as history lessons), or if educated, reject the reality of the complex history that is Black and White people in America. And, though it will have nice costumes, production design, art direction, makeup, cinematography and good overall film direction, I am just not in the mood for the context/theme of this. I’m rather tired, actually. So I will skip this film.

Oh, and before people who refuse to think suggest that I am calling Spielberg racist, and then of course they’ll mention The Color Purple…just…NO. Read her review. Read the last line of this quote. Sometimes “well meaning” people create propaganda that harms as well. (Kola Boof suggested the same thing in her response to Cynthia Mort.) 

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