Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Passive African Americans of Spielberg's "Lincoln"

Kate Masur a historian at Northwestern University, thinks that Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" is a "shoo-in" for an Oscar.  But the film teaches us very little about the African-American experience in Civil War America.  Here is a taste of her review of the movie in The New York Times:
  
...it’s disappointing that in a movie devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery in the United States, African-American characters do almost nothing but passively wait for white men to liberate them. For some 30 years, historians have been demonstrating that slaves were crucial agents in their emancipation; however imperfectly, Ken Burns’s 1990 documentary “The Civil War” brought aspects of that interpretation to the American public. Yet Mr. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” gives us only faithful servants, patiently waiting for the day of Jubilee.

This is not mere nit-picking. Mr. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” helps perpetuate the notion that African Americans have offered little of substance to their own liberation. While the film largely avoids the noxious stereotypes of subservient African-Americans for which movies like “Gone With the Wind” have become notorious, it reinforces, even if inadvertently, the outdated assumption that white men are the primary movers of history and the main sources of social progress.

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