'Lincoln' screenwriter fires back at Conn. congressman
05:00 AM, Feb 08, 2013
Even if it’s Steven Spielberg, and even if it’s Daniel Day-Lewis amazingly occupying the title role, Lincoln is still a movie. And that means liberties were taken with the story, something screenwriter Tony Kushner is now explaining in the wake of accusations that the film is not historically accurate.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., wrote a letter to Spielberg earlier this week noting that a key part of Lincoln is wrong. The film shows two of three lawmakers from his state voting against the 13th Amendment, prohibiting slavery in the U.S.“I could not believe my eyes and ears!” he wrote, because, he says, according to the Congressional Record, all four representatives from Connecticut voted in favor of the amendment.
He went on to say he realizes there is such a thing as “artistic license,” but also demands the film be fixed before Lincoln comes out on DVD.
Now, Lincoln screenwriter Kushner has penned his own letter of response, reports the Wall Street Journal, acknowledging that Courtney “is correct,” but defending and explaining the reasoning behind the film.
Kushner acknowledges, “We changed two of the delegation’s votes, and we made up new names for the men casting those votes, so as not to ascribe any actions to actual persons who didn’t perform them. In the movie, the voting is also organized by state, which is not the practice in the House. ”
He goes on to say the alterations were made “to clarify to the audience the historical reality that the Thirteenth Amendment passed by a very narrow margin that wasn’t determined until the end of the vote. The closeness of that vote and the means by which it came about was the story we wanted to tell. In making changes to the voting sequence, we adhered to time-honored and completely legitimate standards for the creation of historical drama, which is what Lincoln is. I hope nobody is shocked to learn that I also made up dialogue and imagined encounters and invented characters.”
He also says he’s “proud” that the film has been commended by many Lincoln scholars and disagrees with Courtney’s contention that accuracy in every detail is “paramount” in a work of historical drama.
“Here’s my rule: Ask yourself, “Did this thing happen?” If the answer is yes, then it’s historical. Then ask, “Did this thing happen precisely this way?” If the answer is yes, then it’s history; if the answer is no, not precisely this way, then it’s historical drama.”
Kushner does write that he’s “sad to learn that Rep. Courtney feels Connecticut has been defamed. It hasn’t been. The people of Connecticut made the same terrible sacrifices as every other state in the Union, but the state’s political landscape was a complicated affair. The Congressman is incorrect in saying that the state was “solidly” pro-Lincoln. Lincoln received 51.4% of the Connecticut vote in the 1864 election, the same kind of narrow support he received in New York and New Jersey.”
And finally, Kushner gets in a jab at Courtney for grandstanding. “I’m sorry if anyone in Connecticut felt insulted by these 15 seconds of the movie, although issuing a Congressional press release startlingly headlined ‘Before The Oscars…’ seems a rather flamboyant way to make that known. I’m deeply heartened that the vast majority of moviegoers seem to have understood that this is a dramatic film and not an attack on their home state.”
UPDATE, 3 p.m. ET: AP reports that Courtney said Friday he is pleased about Kushner’s concession, but is still hoping that a correction can be made before the film is released on DVD.