Editorial: Lincoln historical inaccuracy should have been avoided
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 22:02
How important is it for a film to be historically accurate? “Lincoln,” which won Daniel Day-Lewis the Academy Award for Best Actor on Sunday, has been making headlines the past few weeks after Congressman Joe Courtney noted the film portrayed Connecticut’s representatives as being split on whether to abolish slavery. In fact, the actual 1865 vote on passing the Thirteenth Amendment was four Connecticut votes for, zero votes against.
Clearly this was a fairly minor error, but for a film that spent years consulting historians for maximum historical accuracy, down to such easily-overlookable details as faithfully recreating Lincoln’s watch, we agree with Courtney that this is one element they should have been correct.
The actual roll call on the Amendment was incredibly close, only passing by two votes over the required threshold. Without those two votes, who can say how much longer it would have taken America to finally get around to ending its gravest human rights abuse? But the filmmakers’ need to portray almost every individual state has being internally divided on the issue does an injustice to those states which stood tall and strong against the injustice of slavery. Connecticut was firmly against the slavery. It was the country as a whole that was not.
Similar complaints have been noted against the Best Picture winner, “Argo,” in which the culminating climactic scene featured a car chase down an airport runway as American hostages escaped from Iranian terrorists. The actual 1979-1980 hostage crisis did occur, but in fact that car chase never happened at all. The fictions in “Argo” are apparently much more frequent than in “Lincoln,” with several additional scenes in the film that were entirely fictitious.
Courtney has asked “Lincoln” director Steven Spielberg to alter the scene when released on DVD later this year. We would support that request (although it is certainly not worth raising a big furor if this fails to occur). If a film is supposedly “based on a true story,” then it should be as much as possible based on a true story.