Saturday, November 17, 2012

Kushner and Spielberg's "Lincoln"

Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner have made a great movie with a misleading title: it should be called The 13th Amendment. It's funny and touching and beautifully made. There are two minor Spielberg moments that I would cut, but that's a tiny quibble. While all the actors are great, Tommy Lee Jones gets to have the most fun. Lincoln joins Glory at the top of the tiny group of great Civil War films.

Some people, like Shakesville, want a different movie, either about the maturation of Lincoln, who grew from thinking black folks should be sent back to Africa, or about the black folks involved in the abolition movement. Those movies would have room for Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman, and they would cover at least five years. But this movie is about a crucial month in US history. It owes more to suspense films than bio pics or costume dramas: it's not about the growth of a character, but about whether that character can succeed in a limited amount of time against enormous obstacles.

There's a truth that many people don't want to acknowledge: oppressed people rarely have the resources to free themselves. Ending slavery in the US was mostly the work of white men, the people who held the power. A hundred years later, the civil rights movement required black folks and white folks working together. When the oppressed are isolated, they end up like Spartacus and Nat Turner.

I hope Toussaint gets made; everyone should know about the only successful slave revolt in history.