Voice from Lincoln: It’s either the amendment or this Confederate piece. You cannot have both.
Scott: It is the drama at the heart of the movie.
President Lincoln’s struggle to persuade, inspire and even bully enough members of Congress to approve the 13th Amendment to ban slavery.
Voice from Lincoln: Since you are sending my son into the war, woe unto you if you fail to pass the amendment.
Scott: But Lincoln actually had more votes than the film would suggest. In the movie, two Connecticut representatives voted against the amendment. But in reality, 148 years ago, the Connecticut delegation actually voted for it.
Rep. Joe Courtney: We’re talking about slavery here. This is not a vote on approving a highway project.
Scott: Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney said the movie’s mistake was an insult to his state.
Courtney: Somebody who respects artistic license, what I still can’t believe is being overlooked is that a vote is not dialog between characters in a movie. A vote is an event.
Scott: Lincoln screenwriter Tony Kushner admitted to changing two of Connecticut’s votes to clarify that the 13th Amendment passed by a narrow margin. He also said, I hope nobody is shocked to learn that I also made up dialogue, imagined encounters and invented characters.
That is Hollywood. But Lincoln’s revisions aren’t even the biggest changes made to a story compared to other best picture nominees.
The most dramatic scenes in Argo, which was based on the true story of Americans trapped in Iran, never actually happened. And then there is this year’s most controversial Oscar hopeful.
Voice from Zero Dark Thirty: I’m not your friend. I’m not going to help you. I’m going to break you. You have any questions?
Scott: Zero Dark Thirty, which recounts the night U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden. Senior members of Congress even complained that scenes showing torture to get information never happened.
A.O. Scott: Hollywood is known not as the truth factory, but the dream factory.
Scott: A.O. Scott is a film critic for The New York Times.
A.O. Scott: People who criticize these movies tend to think, ‘well, the audiences will be fooled.’ I think the opposite tends more to be the case. That people who go to the movies think that what they are seeing – even if it is true, even if it is reality, even if it is maybe a documentary – is really in the end just a movie.
Scott: And when it comes to voting for the best picture, Scott says inaccuracy or ‘creative license,’ as Hollywood would call it, didn’t hurt previous winners, from Gladiator to the movie considered the biggest whopper of them all: Shakespeare in Love.
A.O. Scott: I think it’s when historical accuracy is attached to political controversy that it matters.
Scott: The political controversy around Zero Dark Thirty is why some film critics say it won’t win the Oscar for best picture. They say Lincoln is different because the error didn’t cause such a stir, and because filmmakers worked with a team of historians to get so many other details right.
Jessica, back to you.
- What do Argo, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty have in common?
- What change did the screenwriter for Lincoln make that has caused a concern in Connecticut?
- Why is Congressman Joe Courtney upset with the changes?
- What explanation does Tony Kushner give for the change?
- What story is the movie Argo based on?
- What changes were made in Argo and why were they made?
- What is the plot of Zero Dark Thirty?
- Why are some senior members of congress upset about the movie?
- What is creative license?
- Do you think the controversy over Zero Dark Thirty will hurt the movie’s chances of winning an Oscar?