Hollywood takes on the Civil War

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On the heels of the Civil War's 150th anniversary come film and TV projects from Robert Redford, Carlton Cuse and others that may take a page from the richer, and darker, narratives being uncovered.

Of course, the war between the North and South over slavery and states' rights has for decades supplied a bottomless well of drama — and potential profit — for storytellers. But the new wave of projects is coming at a time when researchers raised in the post-Vietnam era have revolutionized Civil War scholarship with a richer, and darker, understanding of a struggle most Americans probably still know best from high-school history courses.

Details of much of the new writing is under wraps and in other cases still evolving, but whatever material is produced is bound to help re-shape Hollywood's legacy on an endlessly reinterpreted crisis in the country's history. It's still unclear, for example, how the new fare will deal with the subject of race, which has occupied historians for decades over its precise role in the conflict, but which popular entertainment has largely skirted.

A key problem, Blight noted, was the "Lost Cause" mythology, which was promoted by Southern writers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and depicted the Confederacy as a noble and idyllic civilization vanquished by impossible odds. In some viewers' minds, the notion of sumptuous plantations filled with contented, wisecracking slaves still persists.

In the last 20 or 30 years, though, scholars who lived through the country's Vietnam experience began to look at the much more-distant Civil War through a new lens....

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