Kevin M. Levin: Historians Need to Give Steven Spielberg a Break
Kevin M. Levin is a Civil War historian based in Boston. He is the author of the book Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder and can be found online at Civil War Memory.
Historians are stakeholders in anything that attempts to represent the past. The vast majority of these stories pass us by innocently enough, but when the most popular Hollywood director makes a movie about Lincoln we watch and listen closely. We also feel a strong need to educate the general public and point out interpretive shortcomings in popular films.
Over the past few days I've read numerous reviews of Spielberg's Lincoln by professional historians, both in print and in my circle of social media friends. All of them are informative, even if they tend to reflect individual research agendas much more than the movie itself.
Beyond nitpicking specific moments such as the roll call in the House or whether Lincoln ever slapped Robert, my fellow historians have pointed out the lack of attention on women and abolitionists, as well as the free black community in Washington, D.C. Do any of these critiques help us to better understand the movie? No. They simply reinforce what we already know, which is that Hollywood will never make a movie that satisfies the demands of scholars. Nor should it....
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