The Appallingly Low Standard For Civil War Cinema

Kate Masur responds to be me and A.O. Scott, noting (among other things) that not re-making Birth of a Nation is really low hanging fruit:

Tony argues that the film is a "radical" contribution to the film history of the Civil War because it doesn't trade in Lost Cause nostalgia or the hackneyed idea of the tragic "brothers' war." I don't quite agree with that interpretation. What I want to emphasize here, however, is that by deciding to focus on Lincoln's struggle to abolish slavery, Spielberg and Kushner ensured that the film would be seen within another history: the history of films about struggles for black civil rights and equality. In that context—with its benevolent white heroes and patient, passive African Americans—the film is decidedly not innovative.

I agree that this is not a reactionary film. It does not repeat many of the historical inaccuracies and white supremacist messages of earlier films about the Civil War. It does not argue that Lincoln was a tyrant or that African Americans were better off in slavery. But isn't that setting the bar awfully low? Aren't we entitled to expect a bit more from people as smart and well-financed (and liberal) as Spielberg and Kushner?

Again, more on this tomorrow. But I'd like to know how Lincoln is playing in the South. As late as the 2003 the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Virginia were essentially endorsing his assassination.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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