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Congressman Calls for Change to ‘Lincoln’ Before DVD Release

20 Feb, 2013 By: Chris Tribbey


A historical error in the Oscar-nominated Steven Spielberg film Lincoln has a congressman and others calling for the filmmaker to make a fix before Disney releases the hit film on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

Lincoln —$235 million at the worldwide box office as of Feb. 20, and nominated for a dozen Academy Awards — sees Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln during the 16th president’s final months in office, with the roll call vote to ratify the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery among the film’s more tense moments. DreamWorks Pictures and 20th Century Fox co-produced the film, with Disney handling home entertainment distribution.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) praises the film, writing in an open letter to Spielberg “that the rave reviews are justified.” However, the congressman is also calling on the famed director to fix a factual error before the movie is released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

“As a member of Congress from Connecticut, I was on the edge of my seat during the roll call vote on the ratification of the 13th Amendment … but when two of three members of the Nutmeg State’s House delegation voted to uphold slavery, I could not believe my own eyes and ears,” Courtney wrote. “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?”

Congressional records for the Jan. 31, 1865, vote show that members of Connecticut’s delegation all voted to abolish slavery (the amendment passed 119-56). However, the film portrays two Connecticut House members voting against the amendment.

“I understand that artistic license will be taken and that some facts may be blurred to make a story more compelling on the big screen,” Courtney said. “But placing the state of Connecticut on the wrong side of the historic and divisive fight over slavery is a distortion of easily verifiable facts and an inaccuracy that should be acknowledged, and if possible, corrected before Lincoln is released on DVD.”

Films based on history regularly skew facts in favor of entertaining audiences, and Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, and screenwriter of Lincoln, says the changes to Lincoln are no different. The four members of the Connecticut delegation voted for the 13th Amendment, he acknowledged, and two of the delegation’s votes — and the names of the men casting those votes — were changed “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,” Kushner wrote in an open letter, responding to Courtney.

“The closeness of that vote and the means by which it came about was the story we wanted to tell,” Kushner wrote. “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. I hope nobody is shocked to learn that I also made up dialogue and imagined encounters and invented characters.”

A factual error in a history-based Hollywood drama would normally go largely unnoticed. However, Disney Educational Productions has announced it would distribute the DVD of Lincoln to public and private middle and high schools in the United States, as part of a “Stand Tall: Live Like Lincoln” educational program. The Lincoln DVD package to schools includes lesson plans and a teacher’s guide for discussions about Abraham Lincoln’s leadership during the Civil War and battle over slavery.

“As more and more people began to see the film, we received letters from teachers asking if it could be available in their classrooms,” Spielberg said in a press release. “We realized that the educational value that Lincoln could have was not only for the adult audiences — who have studied his life in history books — but for the young students in the classroom as well.”

If the Lincoln DVD is to be used as a teaching tool for American students, it should be historically accurate, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in an opinion piece Feb. 16.

Pointing out that fellow Best Picture nominees Argo and Zero Dark Thirty also dance around historical fact, it’s Lincoln that’s being held as a teaching tool for American students, she wrote.

“I think Spielberg should refilm [or redub] the scene … before he sends out his DVDs and leaves students everywhere thinking the Nutmeg State is nutty,” Dowd wrote.

DreamWorks Studios and Disney were contacted late Feb. 19 for comment on this story. A street date for Lincoln has not been announced.

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