I know I need to see it before I blog about it again, but since we’re not talking aesthetics I might as well discuss this now. Coates is right that to the extent that it doesn’t engage in any lies about what the Civil War was about, it’s a pop culture advance:
The implicit message of Lincoln (the necessity of political compromise) isn’t very radical. But when you consider the film, as a whole, against the backdrop of how America has handled the Civil War in popular culture, it is shockingly radical.
It may seem ordinary to those of who study the War to feature the USCT. Their role is simply a fact of history. But this is decidedly not the history presented in Birth Of A Nation, in Gone With The Wind, in Hell on Wheels, in Ride With The Devil.
Lincoln says the Civil War is about slavery. Full Stop. No mealy-mouthed “brother against brother” nonsense. No vague whining about tragedy. Slavery is the tragedy. No homilies to states rights. The right at stake is the right to enslave. And the black people doing the killing and dying are not confused. Nor are the authors of the Confederacy. I have never seen these facts—basic history though they may—stated so forthrightly, without apology, in the sphere of mass popular culture.
It seems to me that other big middlebrow Civil War event of the last 20 years — Ken Burns’s documentary — does the opposite. It’s better about emphasizing the agency of the slaves in their emancipation than Lincoln is by all accounts. But particularly because of the major role given to Shelby Foote, there’s also way too much space given over to “states’ rights” and other bullshit evasions of the reason the South seceded.