Spielberg's Lincoln: Great story but narrowly told
Imagine being in a crowded room where all the people are speaking about you. They are telling each other: how good you are, or how wretched you behave, what you deserve, what you don’t deserve. And during this two hour plus conversation which is essentially about you, you are not once asked how you feel about this, what’s your opinion?
That was the overwhelming sensation I had when I watched the certain multi-Oscar winning film Abraham Lincoln, at a special viewing at 20th Century Fox’s central London offices. Courtesy of the American Embassy.
Of course the title of the film clearly indicates who the main protagonist is, which by the way is most exquisitely played by Daniel Day Lewis, but even with a central protagonist, the story hangs around two entwined themes; the abolishing of slavery, and the end of the American Civil war. The latter was in many ways about the Southern States-the Confederates-right to own Black human beings: Slavery. So it’s a story about Black people, and how a nation should treat this section of its society, told through the prism of perhaps America’s greatest President Abraham Lincoln.
The political intrigue particularly key figures of the time Abraham Lincoln and the House of Representative anti –abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens is fascinating as it is intriguing, but it is a gross distortion of history to present the abolishing movement only through the eyes of powerful white men.
The master story teller Steven Spielberg characterizes the few Black cameo roles to the ‘noble servants’; righteous, loyal, lovers, all imbued with sadness that accepts their sorry state.
It’s a shame, because a part from this elephant in the room it’s a good film. It is particularly disappointing because Spielberg usually gets the balance much better than he does here. With Schindler’s list, Schindler, the German mercantile who smuggles Jews to safety from the Nazi death camps shares the film's centre stage with Itzhak Stern, Schindler's accountant and business partner, beautifully played by Ben Kingsly. In the film Amistad, the ships captain is played by Anthony Hopkins who is clearly outshone by the sheer presence of his supporting actor Djimon Hounsou.
I guess it ultimately comes down to who’s telling the story: His-story or our story. And although as we’ve seen with the debate around the National Curriculum which sometimes pits one against the other- Florence Nightingale against Seacole, and William Wilberforce against Olaudah Equiano, you can have both.