On a long train ride back to Vernon recently, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Second District, tried to put his new career as a movie critic in perspective.
"Guess I'll have to watch the Oscars now," he said.
Who knows if Courtney will be part of the on-stage discussion when the Academy Awards are presented Feb. 24, but he found himself in the middle of a discussion over a Best Picture candidate — "Lincoln" — when he told the filmmakers there were historical inaccuracies in the portrayal of Connecticut's vote on the 13th Amendment.
So Lincoln is on Courtney's mind this Presidents Day.
“I am pleased that Mr. Kushner conceded that his ‘Lincoln’ screenplay got it wrong on the Connecticut delegation’s votes for the 13th Amendment," Courtney said. "My effort from the beginning has been to set the record straight on this vote, so people do not leave the theater believing Connecticut’s representatives in the 38th Congress were on the wrong side of history. This is a positive step toward that end, and I still hope a correction can be made in advance of the film’s DVD release."
Courtney was referring to screenwriter Tony Kushner, who has acknowledged that some cinematic license was taken.
“It is true that Connecticut, like all states, had some opposition to President Lincoln and his policies, as well as a conflicted approach to the slavery question," Courtney said. "In a democracy, that is the constant state of being that in many respects Lincoln and the Union cause were defending. Across the Civil War, Connecticut lost more than 4,000 soldiers to disease, poorly-treated wounds and in combat.
"Their sacrifice emphatically demonstrates Connecticut's fidelity to the struggle to preserve the Union and end slavery, which is represented in ‘Lincoln’ dramatically by the House’s vote on the 13th Amendment. The four members of Connecticut’s delegation reflected that commitment on January 31, 1865, and they deserved a better legacy than the screenplay portrayed.”
Courtney's quibble produced a response from Kushner.
"Rep. Courtney is correct that the four members of the Connecticut delegation voted for the amendment. We changed two of the delegation’s votes, and we made up new names for the men casting those votes, so as not to ascribe any actions to actual persons who didn’t perform them. In the movie the voting is also organized by state, which is not the practice in the House.
"These alterations were made to clarify to the audience the historical reality that the Thirteenth Amendment passed by a very narrow margin that wasn’t determined until the end of the vote. The closeness of that vote and the means by which it came about was the story we wanted to tell. In making changes to the voting sequence, we adhered to time-honored and completely legitimate standards for the creation of historical drama, which is what Lincoln is. I hope nobody is shocked to learn that I also made up dialogue and imagined encounters and invented characters.
"I’m sad to learn that Rep. Courtney feels Connecticut has been defamed. It hasn’t been. The people of Connecticut made the same terrible sacrifices as every other state in the Union, but the state’s political landscape was a complicated affair … I’m sorry if anyone in Connecticut felt insulted by these 15 seconds of the movie, although issuing a Congressional press release startlingly headlined 'Before The Oscars …' seems a rather flamboyant way to make that known."