Spielberg’s Lincoln Movie: Yet More White Saviors?

Political scientist Corey Robin has a very thorough review and analysis of issues in and around the new Spielberg movie, Lincoln. It focuses on the political machinations in regard to the thirteenth amendment, which officially ended slavery — which was a or the major foundation of the US economic and political system for well over half this country’s history. I have not yet seen the movie, but according to Robin and others, it is another “white savior” movie:

What is so odd about this film—and something I would not have anticipated from Masur’s op-ed—is that it really is trying to show that abolition is the democratic project of the 19th century. Democratic in its objective (making slaves free and ultimately equal) and democratic in its execution, involving a great many men beyond Lincoln himself, and a great many lowly men at that. But it is a white man’s democracy. In the film, in fact, Lincoln tells his colleagues: “The fate of human dignity is in our hands.” Our hands. Not theirs.

The inclusion of so many white players makes the exclusion of black players all the more inexplicable—and inexcusable. It’s just a weird throwback to the pre-Civil Rights era except that emancipation is now depicted as a good thing—just so long as it is white people who are doing the emancipating.

I sometimes ask my students and colleagues, “who freed the slaves?” Most people say the Emancipation proclamation or Lincoln.

Actually those “black players,” the 210,000 black Union soldiers and sailors and the 300,000 black Union support troops played the biggest role in many ways, yet get almost no attention in mainstream accounts of a typically white-centered Civil War. Not to mention the great “strike” of black labor against the treasonous Confederate slaveholders, the black laborers who fled slavery to the North or who sabotaged the plantation economy during the war.

Even Lincoln belatedly admitted the Union forces would have had trouble winning indeed without the black volunteers for the Union cause. That is, in a very real sense, “the former slaves freed the slaves.”

Please add your thoughts on this “blockbuster” movie, especially if you have seen it.