Allison Samuels Says the Movie 'Lincoln' Is Good But Where Are the Black People?

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Lincoln is an epic yarn, worthy of our praise. But where are the historic black leaders? You're better than that, Spielberg, writes Allison Samuels.

A year ago, I began hearing chatter from those in the know in the entertainment industry about the Steven Spielberg film Lincoln. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones, the movie is based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin's Pulitzer Prize-winning Team of Rivals. The book masterfully follows the Lincoln presidency through the lens of his relationships with three key cabinet members who were also his opponents for election in 1860. 

Spielberg's film is more narrowly focused on the last four months of Lincoln's life and his efforts to get the 13th Amendment to the Constitution passed by the House of Representatives to formally end slavery in the United States. 

Though several of my friends ventured out to see Lincoln and eagerly came back with rave reviews, I had little interest in revisiting the painful past of slavery--especially through eyes of white Hollywood or a heroic biography of Lincoln. 

Like many, I watched one of the first mainstream accounts of slavery in Roots with my family several times as a child. And despite Quentin Tarantino's recent harsh critique and dislike for the '70s television miniseries, I admit I rather enjoyed Alex Haley's account that traced his lineage back to Africa. The names "Kunta Kinte" and "Chicken George" continue to be strong cultural touchstones for an entire generation of African-Americans.  

Roots notwithstanding, the majority of Hollywood accounts of slavery and the African-Americans who were enslaved in film and television seemed both contrived and absent of many of the crucial facts that actually shaped that violent and cruel period in American history. They also seemed more concerned with the stories of the enslavers and not the enslaved. With that in mind I often tried to avoid Hollywood's treatment of that period at all cost.  

Two weeks ago my decision not to see Lincoln ended abruptly as a friend kindly invited to me a reception and viewing hosted by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer for screenwriter Tony Kushner. The award-winning actresses have been friends with the writer for years and wanted to show support by hosting an intimate gathering in his honor.

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SOURCE: The Daily Beast
Allison Samuels
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