However, the film matters on a broader and more immediate level. Spielberg could not have predicted, in 2001 when he first bought the rights to Goodwin's book, the timeliness of the film in terms of both the fight for racial equality in America and the re-election of a president from Illinois. Nor could he have predicted how the level of virulent opposition against Lincoln could echo some of the sentiments, of a similar economic class and geographic region, against a president in 2012: including an online campaign to secede from the Union. He may have begun to get an inkling as the presidential election neared, though, and that may be why he categorically refused to release his movie before November 6th, lest it end up being used as "a political soccer ball."
It seems he was protecting the film, not the election -- although Spielberg is a very large Democratic donor and probably doesn't much like it when the conservative noise machine embraces Lincoln's record at the same time as they eschew his causes. But it is a civil rights movie that comes at a time when the country is again divided over race, and conservatives know it, because they have already started complaining that the movie is on Obama's side, without anything in the film making any such reference. (The griping helps prove that the right-wing blowhards really do recognize in their hearts that their opposition to Obama is racially-based.)
Yet there's more. Lincoln shows how sometimes an amendment to the Constitution is urgently, deeply, inescapably necessary, and it dramatizes part of what goes into getting one passed. (How many movies have actually done that?) A movie about this process is amazingly relevant because a strong and burgeoning movement has blossomed in the U.S. over the last two years, demanding a 28th amendment to get big money out of elections and to preserve the rights of the Constitution for people, not corporations. Several versions of such an amendment have been proposed, not just by grassroots organizations like the Move to Amend coalition, but also by numerous reps on Capitol Hill and in increasing numbers of state and local ballot initiatives and resolutions. The wake-up call was the Citizens United case; it has spawned a flurry of activity around the country to use the amendment process to gain viable campaign finance reform, and even the President has expressed support for an amendment to undo this Court decision.
But in fact, as activists have been pointing out at teach-ins and lectures, the Supreme Court began giving our rights away to corporations over a century and a quarter ago: not just the 1st Amendment right to free speech (which is the best-known of corporate usurpations), but also the rights inherent in the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 14th Amendments.
Ironically, the window through which corporations first
crawled was the 14th Amendment, part of the trio of "Reconstruction
Amendments' launched by Lincoln to liberate slaves and accord them their
democratic rights. Instead, the 14th Amendment was hijacked by
railroad companies to swell their own power, and we can see the fruition of
that today in the corporate state. So it is very fitting that Spielberg's movie
appear at this moment in time. It has the potential to galvanize activists --
far beyond anything Spielberg was even conscious of, I'm sure.
In short, Lincoln is
on the side of the angels. When the scene we've long been waiting for finally
occurs on Capitol Hill, the congressmen cast their votes on the 13th
Amendment in the true spirit of a Frank Capra film: each minor politician gets
his moment in the sun, grown men cry, and the forces of hatred are defeated. Of
course, there's also the business of the assassination to take care of, but
Kushner and Spielberg deal with that in such a way it almost seems to round off
Lincoln's accomplishments, as if his task list had read: free the slaves, win
the war, and achieve martyrdom.
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