Courtney right calling out movie error

You don't have to get all snooty, Mr. Kushner, just admit you were wrong and do something to fix it. Maybe a small onscreen note when the DVD comes out.

Tony Kushner is the Oscar-nominated screenwriter who wrote the script for the historical drama "Lincoln." It's a great movie. If you get a chance to see it, do so. But Mr. Kushner made a noteworthy mistake when it came to depicting the votes of the Connecticut congressional delegation in the film. Called out on it, Mr. Kushner could not leave things at admitting he got it wrong, he tried to defend getting wrong as OK and took shots at the guy who brought up the error, eastern Connecticut's own Second District Congressman Joe Courtney.

The film revolves around President Abraham Lincoln's effort to convince Congress to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery before the end of the Civil War, fearing the validity of his Emancipation Proclamation would not extend beyond the war.

At issue is the film's depiction of two House members from Connecticut voting against the amendment. In fact, all four congressmen from Connecticut - including Augustus Brandegee of New London - voted in favor of the amendment.

"Placing the State of Connecticut on the wrong side of the historic and divisive fight over slavery is a distortion of easily verifiable facts and an inaccuracy that should be acknowledged, and if possible, corrected before 'Lincoln' is released on DVD," wrote Rep. Courtney in a Feb. 5 letter to director Steven Speilberg.

That was well done, Rep. Courtney.

While Connecticut, like all states, had many citizens who opposed President Lincoln and his policies, on balance Connecticut has a proud history when it comes to the anti-slavery movement and equal rights. The state heroine is Prudence Crandall. In 1832, Crandall, a Quaker schoolteacher in Canterbury, sparked a major controversy by admitting Sarah Harris, the daughter of a black farmer, into her school. After white parents withdrew their students from the school, Crandall tried to turn the institution into a school for the education of black children. While mobs later forced the school to close, it was a brave early step in the fight for equal educational opportunities.

James Pennington, who escaped from slavery in Maryland and built a new life in Connecticut, studying theology at Yale, was selected to represent the state at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London.

And of course Litchfield-born Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1851 classic novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," depicting the moral horrors of slavery, is credited with playing a large role in changing public attitudes about slavery, particularly in the North. Amazingly, Ms. Stowe had little exposure to the institution of slavery herself, and would say of the highly influential work: "God wrote it. I merely wrote His dictation."

Connecticut lost 4,000 men in the war that ended slavery in this nation.

So while the erroneous depiction of the Connecticut delegation vote takes up only 15 seconds or so in the movie, it is a significant error in distorting the state's historic place.

In admitting he got it wrong, Mr. Kushner said his primary aim was to show the drama of the close vote, not to depict precisely how it came about.

"I hope nobody is shocked to learn that I also made up dialogue and imagined encounters and invented characters," Mr. Kushner added snidely in his response to Rep. Courtney.

He also said the feature-length film could not "accommodate the story of every state." Excuses, excuses. No one is saying the history of Connecticut should have been depicted in the film, but you could have got the vote right, Mr. Kushner, it's not that hard. There is a record.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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