How many movies about the gruesome Civil War and the ethical wrongness of slavery have you seen?
Exactly! That many, huh?
So when Steven Spielberg decided to direct a film about the president who changed American history, of course he had to take a different angle.
In “Lincoln” Spielberg taps Daniel Day-Lewis to portray Honest Abe. Lewis, 6’2”, physically epitomizes Lincoln, who was 6’4”. With his wooly beard, salt-and-pepper hair and top hat, Lewis resurrects the 16th president. But it’s more than that. Lewis’ gentle mannerisms, and gentle glare also help bring Lincoln to life.
While the movie’s over-arching concept is about freeing the slaves and ending the war, Spielberg doesn’t focus a lot of time on what life was like for Black people during the 1860s. Slavery gets treated like Judie from Family Matters. She goes upstairs, so you know she’s there, but never comes back. So, in some aspects it is a Black film, but the concept of slavery is almost a distant supporting cast member, which helps you to focus more on how Lincoln gets the job done instead of the job at hand.
You would think if you’re going to a film about the president who ended the Civil War, there would be a lot of battle scenes. However, there aren’t too many hand-to-hand combat scenes and not one scene portrays the brutality Blacks endured during that time.
Instead, the film zeros in on the emotional and political turmoil Lincoln underwent trying to push a nation forward while still keeping it together. Lincoln is set four months before his assassination and moviegoers are privy to the legislative process. We also see Lincoln’s political prowess, his savvy and reach across the political parties.
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The heart of the film showcases Lincoln’s personal life. Yes, we all know he was the Great Emancipator and because of his desire for justice freed the slaves. Okay. Great. Shout out to Lincoln! But what a lot of people don’t know is Lincoln was kind, humble and endearing. He used any excuse he could to tell an anecdote to make a point, as opposed to throwing his weight around. Lincoln led through influence, not power.
One could take away that Hollywood got it wrong again. Lincoln is most known for passing the 13th Amendment and abolishing slavery, so it’s almost insulting Spielberg chose to not focus on the plight of the Black family, and the Black soldiers that fought in the Civil War.
However, in Spielberg’s defense, how many times has that been done? We know slavery gets abolished. We know the Civil War ends. What we don’t know is what kind of man Lincoln was. He’s hailed as one of America’s great leaders, yet he’s draped in mystery and esteem.
Spielberg was attracted to Lincoln’s mix of brilliance and common sense. History shows while Lincoln changed and shaped American history, he suffered from bouts of depression, lost a child and was assassinated, yet he still managed to lead a nation. That complexity is what Spielberg lusted after.
Don’t go and see Lincoln expecting to see the plight of Blacks during the 1860s or to brush up on your history lessons either. Lincoln is a movie about a man trying to do what’s right for the American people who at the time couldn’t see past their own noses.
“Lincoln” lives up to its name. It’s not really about the Civil War and it’s not really about slavery. It’s about…Lincoln.
Lincoln opens nationwide November 16.
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