Screenwriter Tony Kushner Responds to Congressman

lincoln-12

The Carpetbagger has done the reporting no one else cared to do  on this story (leave it to the NY Times, that’s why I pay $20 a month to keep them around) about Congressman Joe Courtney’s “before the Oscars” plea — this year, everyone wants to tell the Academy what to do – to write their individual wrongs, whether it’s Ed Asner and Martin Sheen, or this guy.  Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner responded:

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 13th 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 proud that Lincoln’s fidelity to and illumination of history has been commended by many Lincoln scholars. But I respectfully disagree with the congressman’s contention that accuracy in every detail is “paramount” in a work of historical drama. Accuracy is paramount in every detail of a work of history. Here’s my rule: Ask yourself, “Did this thing happen?” If the answer is yes, then it’s historical. Then ask, “Did this thing happen precisely this way?” If the answer is yes, then it’s history; if the answer is no, not precisely this way, then it’s historical drama. The 13th Amendment passed by a two-vote margin in the House in January 1865 because President Lincoln decided to push it through, using persuasion and patronage to switch the votes of lame-duck Democrats, all the while fending off a serious offer to negotiate peace from the South. None of the key moments of that story — the overarching story our film tells — are altered. Beyond that, if the distinction between history and historical fiction doesn’t matter, I don’t understand why anyone bothers with historical fiction at all.

I’m sad to learn that Representative 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. The congressman is incorrect in saying that the state was “solidly” pro-Lincoln. Lincoln received 51.4 percent of the Connecticut vote in the 1864 election, the same kind of narrow support he received in New York and New Jersey. As Connecticut Civil War historian Matthew Warshauer has pointed out, “The broader context of Connecticut’s history doesn’t reflect what Courtney had said in his letter. The point is we weren’t unified against slavery.” We didn’t dig into this tangled regional history in Lincoln because a feature-length dramatic film obviously cannot accommodate the story of every state, and more to the point, because that’s not what the movie was about.

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. I’m deeply heartened that the vast majority of moviegoers seem to have understood that this is a dramatic film and not an attack on their home state.

117 Comments on this Post

  1. Oh SNAP ! Take that Rep. Courtney !

  2. why do you need to post this Sasha? The movie is so boring and it will not even win best picture.

  3. Terometer

    I think this whole drama is way more exciting than Lincoln.

  4. Loved that response.
    Rep. Courtney is a disgrace. He was voted into office to draft actual legislation, and he should not have spent one iota of time complaining about Lincoln and demanding apologies from the filmmakers.

  5. If I would be choosing between Battlefield Earth and Lincoln, there is no doubt that I will be choosing BATTLEFIELD EARTH all the way. Lincoln is just a shit movie with an agenda. A boring movie should never win for BP.

  6. That man can write. Wow, what an articulate, intelligent response.

  7. Yeah, Lincoln doesn’t even need to be defended because no matter how it is defended, it will not win Best Picture.

  8. Wow! Shallow, cowardly troll alert!

  9. Changing the voting order in the House for dramatic effect is one thing, but misrepresenting how a state’s delegation voted is out of bounds. Far too many people “learn” history from movies and get their “news” from “The Daily Show.”

  10. He does have a way with words, this kid Kushner.

  11. wow, do I understand it correctly? This connecticut voting thing is by purpose and not just a mistake.
    I do not understand why this make the voting look more close. If they let all CT congressmen vote yes, they still can say it was a close voting.
    sorry, but imo Kushners response is ill-conceived.

  12. rufussondheim

    It’s a shame that Kushner wasn’t this passionate about defending Zero Dark Thirty. Here, his comments merely seem self-serving.

  13. Victor Barreto

    @rufus

    Yeah, shameless Oscar season, 2013.

  14. @Bette

    hmmm, the headline was indeed:
    “Ahead of Oscars, Courtney asks Spielberg, DreamWorks to correct Lincoln inaccuracy that places Connecticut on wrong side of slavery debate”

    http://courtney.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6786:ahead-of-oscars-courtney-asks-spielberg-dreamworks-to-correct-lincoln-inaccuracy-that-places-connecticut-on-wrong-side-of-slavery-debate&catid=49:press&Itemid=300131

  15. I’m sorry, Rufus, did I miss a moment when Mark Boal defended Lincoln? And if not, what are you talking about?

  16. The point, Rob, is that writers should be ready to defend artistic licence not only on behalf of their own work, but on behalf of others, too. This did not happen with the Zero Dark Thirty witchhunt. A word or two from Kushner and others would have gone a long way at the time.

    That doesn’t happen when there is a little gold statue at stake, however. Goes around / comes around. Wasn’t right before and it still isn’t right.

  17. “the 13th Amendment passed by a very narrow margin”

    So, that negates a very narrow margin requires artistic license to heighten the drama, because there is no drama in a very narrow margin. Capice?

    What Lincoln’s voting sequence needed wasn’t more nay votes, but a nice pair of sharp scissors. Mary Todd was carrying a pencil and pad. Maybe she had a pair.

    ZZZzzzzzzDark30WasTheBestFilmOfTheYearSorryYou’reLateToTheParty.

  18. Daveylow

    Though I don’t think everything in an historic drama has to follow all the facts literally, I don’t think Kushner’s response makes a very strong case about why he changed the facts about Connecticut’s votes in the movie.

  19. Bryce Forestieri

    The sad thing is there will be no Backlash against Affleck for scheming the smear in the first place. AMPAS should know about this Affleck’s relationship to this individual. Truly disgusting move by Affleck who is playing hard-ball in the homestretch.

  20. That’s A-Mazing. HOUSED.

    Now lets see the Argo screenwriter explain the fake chase scene as historical drama

  21. Sorry, @steve50, but that makes no sense at all, since Zero Dark Thirty’s makers were not interested in defending their depiction of torture as “artistic license”; they were interested in defending it as accurate.

  22. Bunch of conspiracy theorists out there. “Before the Oscars” plea? You mean, he might have watched the film while it was still in theaters and saw the error? *gasp*! The government is out to sabotage Lincoln so that Argo can win… I mean, the government is secretly rooting for Zero Dark Thirty, helping Argo is just a smoke screen.

    Whether Affleck called in favors, wouldn’t this still be a factual error? One in which millions of films get questioned about. It usually boils down to debating when artistic license is justified, or when its a convenient device.

    Kushner makes a few good (but pissy) points. He still fails to address the core question. For example, in context, was it necessary to alter the voting record? Did it really drive the plot further? Was there no other way to achieve the desired effect?

    To highlight one example, Argo consolidated the safe houses. In this respect, I think they were dramatically justified. Only so much screen time could be devoted to swapping houses before it would detract from the story. Or The King’s Speech, some of its exclusions regarding his brother’s appeasement of the Nazis were unnecessary in this context (though it would have made for a better film).

    So, could someone argue the benefit of Kushner’s flexibility in this case? Why was it necessary to the story? Had he wanted to show the divisions even within the north, fictionalized dialogue would suffice, but the voting record is a hard fact – not a dramatic device.

  23. “Here’s my rule: Ask yourself, “Did this thing happen?” If the answer is yes, then it’s historical. Then ask, “Did this thing happen precisely this way?” If the answer is yes, then it’s history; if the answer is no, not precisely this way, then it’s historical drama.”
    —–
    So using his definition did this thing happen the answer is no CT did NOT vote 2 against the Ammendment. That would make it ahistorical/pure fiction correct? Not even just “historical drama”. If his greater point was to show the citizens of CT were split regarding the slavery question via their vote for Lincoln’s re-election a sentence of exposition would have been the way to go not changing the congressional voting record. I do give him points for elequence and addressing the matter head on. Those who keep harping on Argo I will remind you that Affleck corrected the record EARLY on about what is fact and what is fiction in his film. As well as attempted to make amends regarding not crediting the Canadians enough. It’s all about how you handle a controvesy not the controvesy itself as politics will show you. Thanks Sasha for posting this.

  24. Well, it’s serious.
    I’ m very disappointed whit Kushner.
    Artistical license is one thing; it’a a lie.
    After that, Kushner can say goodbye to his chances at Oscars.
    Terrio – now for one more reason – will win.

  25. but the voting record is a hard fact – not a dramatic device.

    So the CT vote is a hard fact. But neither Argo’s safe house consolidation nor Argo’s fake airport chase count as ignoring hard facts. Got it.

    If it’s not in the Congressional Record then it’s not a hard fact. Got it.

    Lucky for Argo.

  26. Artistical license is one thing; it’a a lie.

    Then by the same standard Argo is packed with wall-to-wall lies too. I doubt there is a single incident depicted in Argo that wasn’t “heightened,” twisted or flat-out fabricated for dramatic effect.

    None of what Terrio or Kushner did is lying, and anyone who thinks so is just being hysterical.

  27. Damn, that was a thorough bitchslapping.

    Can we get this guy to write a defense for Zero Dark Thirty?

  28. christiannnw

    I’m whit Fabhino on this one. Artistical license is one thing; it’s a lie.

  29. “It’s a shame that Kushner wasn’t this passionate about defending Zero Dark Thirty.”
    —-
    Zero Dark Thirty is produced by the daughter of almost the richest man in America and distributed by Sony one of the biggest movie studios in the world. They can defend themselves. It’s not Kushner’s place to defend them. Besides Kushner is making the OPPOSITE argument from the makers of Zero Dark Thirty. He is admiting that part of his film is fiction, the makers of Zero Dark Thirty are standing firm on their claim that their work is factual.

  30. Sorry I didn’t finish my last post, hit submit on accident.
    Kushner has no idea what parts of Zero Dark Thirty are fact and what parts are fiction. They claim to have furst hand accouunts from secret sources no one but the filmmakers have access to. If he comes out defending Zero Dark Thirty as historical drama and not “journalistic” as the makers are selling it he will be buried alive as trying to take down Zero Dark Thirty. As a Zero Dark Thirty hater. Bigelow and Boal made their own beds and are old enough to sleep in it. Sony is powerful enough to protect them as needed.

  31. christiannnw

    This argument over truth in “Zero Dark Thirty” is tiresome at this point. It’s a movie. A MOVIE. And what’s so infuriating about these complaints is that they home in on aspects of the film that are so minor compared to the cumulative effect of the film. The same can be said for “Lincoln”.

    I mean, I’m not complaining that Maya was never shown putting a pad or tampon in her pants during ZD30’s duration. Like, if the film was covering a manhunt that lasted for nearly ten years, she must’ve had her period at least twice, right? Why doesn’t the film show this? I WANT THE TRUTH, MARK BOAL!

  32. christiannnw,
    If you are going to take it that far…there are women who use hormonal methods not to menstrate monthly. Especially if they are not planning on having children and might be “in the field” as a CIA agent with little time to track down pads and tampons in a hostile country. So maybe Maya didn’t have periods. Not an omportant part of the film since we are dealing with the Hunt for Osama Bin Laden not the menstrual cycle. They also didn’t show her masturbating. Going without sex for 10 years I’m sure she had her supply of sex toys but that’s not what the film is about either :D

  33. The J Viewer

    Kusher: “I’m sad to learn that Representative Courtney feels Connecticut has been defamed.” “The congressman is incorrect in saying that the state was “solidly” pro-Lincoln.”

    The simple fact: there’s been an error, and actually the state of Connecticut’s good name has been — and I quote — “tarnished”. Why didn’t he just admit it(?)….

    Regardless of Courtney’s real intent, as well as the publicity around it, he represents Connecticut and he is doing his job by reason of his office in this case.

    [I am not saying I’ve been expecting films and movies to be historically free of errors all the time; that’s not the point of this my comment and one of the previous re this matter. (Anyway, just an outsider’s viewpoint here.)]

  34. christiannnw

    Jerry, I was being facetious (though I think you realize that haha), but I hope my overall point is understood: it’s pretty much impossible to translate actual reality into a historical film. In the case of Spielberg’s film, if a very minor component of a sequence had to be altered for filmmaking’s sake, it should be forgiven, since it doesn’t detract from the experience of watching the and ESPECIALLY because no one picked up on it until it was time to sling Oscar mud.

    And in the case of “Zero Dark Thirty”, torture happened, and it may have or may have not worked in many instances. In ZD30’s case, torture inadvertently proved effective, as the protagonist of the film was able to derive valuable information due to a detainee’s stubbornness while being tortured. But these sequences are minuscule when compared to the film’s overall impact: a rumination upon our nation’s standing following the conclusion of a violent saga that has plagued our national conscious for years. And since “did torture work?” is such a blah response to the film, I hope most viewers will walk away from ZD30 considering the open ended concepts it proposes.

  35. The J Viewer

    (Seriously, why has my comment been deleted?)

  36. The J Viewer

    I don’t see any of your comments that have been deleted. Your comments are never are problem. Nothing of yours is accidentally trapped the spam filter either. If something you wrote got lost it was a glitch, not deleted.

  37. Ryan,
    Thanks for your kindness, but I think this and I’m not being hysterical.
    My clear opinion is there’s a great difference between one or two artistic licences and a HISTORICAL FACT CHANGED FOR UNKNOW REASONS.
    Imagine someone saying Blanche Dubois is a great character from LA and not a southtern lady. Or that Hamlet is a incestuous son, in love for his mother Gertrudes. It’s bizzarre, isn’t it? And we’re talking about characters.
    So, imagine someone making a movie about Russian Space Run and in the end saying a russian was the first man on thw moon and not Armstrong. Anyway, the writer think it’s more interesting to show a russian being the first man on the moon, cause it’s a russian movie.
    It wouldn’t be a detail, a simple mistake. It would be an unnecessary lie!
    By the way, if we’re going to talk about hysterical and desesperate people and desesperate measures, let’s talk about some Lincoln fanboys.

  38. The Wallstreet Journal is covering Kushner’s rebuttal with their own 2 cents. Well if nothing else we are getting some history lesson from the debate.

    The actual Connecticut representatives at the time braved political attacks and personal hardships to support the 13th Amendment. One of them, Augustus Brandegee of New London, was a fierce abolitionist, and according to an obituary in the Connecticut State Library database “He zealously supported the anti-slavery movement when its supporters met contumely and contempt.” Another, James English of New Haven, considered slavery “a monstrous injustice” and left his sick wife to vote for the 13th Amendment. http://t.co/YwkSWJMO

  39.  Another, James English of New Haven, considered slavery “a monstrous injustice” and left his sick wife to vote for the 13th amendment. “I suppose I am politically ruined, but that day was the happiest day of my life,”  English said afterwards. A third Connecticut representative, Henry Deming of Colchester, once railed against “the infamy of buying, selling and owning human beings.” And the fourth, John Henry Hubbard of Salisbury, not only voted for the 13th amendment, he also supported funds to help freed slaves after the war saying “from the beginning to the present time they have been robbed of their wages, to say nothing of the scourgings they have received.”  
    http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2013/02/07/congressman-complains-lincoln-got-connecticuts-slavery-vote-wrong/

  40. I can’t believe this is even a story…..

  41. First, thank you, @Bette.

    Second, the problem with “Lincoln” is that it’s the story of a world giant and it’s an adaptation of a highly acclaimed historian’s book. Fair or not, the bar is set higher in terms of “truthiness.”

    I’m pretty sure that I said this a couple of months ago, but I was a bit disappointed when I went to see a film called “Lincoln,” and it focused on a (very important, but) very short period of his life. What I saw was very good, but I did want more.

  42. Jack Traven II

    Reporting from the Battle of Awardsdaily: It is a bloody mess. There seems to be no end to this. Ongoing attacks from both sides. Nobody knows who will be the winner? The Argonauts or the Lincolners. Maybe only the one last final clash on February, 24th will define the winner. But will this spell the end for the hate and the humiliations? Well, … ;-)

  43. OMG! Now I can see it.
    Lincoln manipulated the voting to get the amendment pass. Kushner voting manipulation is a homage to the voting manipulation.

  44. Tero Heikkinen

    The real story here is timing (just before the Oscars). No-one expected Americans making a dramatic film based on actual facts. That never happens.

  45. IMO the timing is not suspicious. Courtney said he watched the movie last weekend.
    If he watched it 2 month ago and come out with this letter now, this would be suspicious, but this is not the case.

  46. What I pretty much got out of that was “I could give a crap less about 100% accuracy and care a lot more about making my films dramatic”. It was a fancy response to say just that. Like… okay… I liked your screenplay Kushner… but your response is so ignorant and unclassy. His thirst for an Oscar is very apparent and pathetic. He should have took this criticism like a man and just stayed silent. Still rooting for him… but wow… pathetic. He totally distorted the entire situation to his benefit. Sad! But don’t say Argo is any better… I’ve read that it also has its share of errors.

  47. Mark Boal has issued a statement in defence of Zero Dark Thirty too:

    http://insidemovies.ew.com/2013/02/07/zero-dark-thirty-writer-mark-boal-says-u-s-torture-was-dead-wrong/

    Seems the writers are getting it in the neck this year. Hope they both fucking win then :D

  48. Bob Burns

    “everyone wants to tell the Academy what to do ”

    no comment

  49. Kushner should write a screenplay about Obama.
    Romney 53% Obama 47%
    with Obama winning the electorial votes.
    That would be great (and dramatic)

    lol

  50. I think Kushner wrote one of the best screenplays of the year, and if anything wrote the best film dialogue in a long time. I seriously hopes he wins the Screenplay award.

    That said, I disagree with the core issue of Kushner’s response, which is that he blatantly changed facts for no real reason. The dramatic/artistic license did not call for changing a historical fact (one that is on record and that anyone can check) like Connecticut actually voting for the 13th Amendment.

    Making up dialogue, private scenarios, exaggerating actual events, etc. are all normal for historical dramas to entertain the audience or build up the exposition. However, there’s a line that needs to be drawn and writing that Connecticut voted against the 13th Amendment when they actually voted for it is a big deal.

    That said, the Headline from the CT Senator does seem odd. “Before the Oscars…” That’s what made Sasha Stone wonder about his true intentions. I know he probably didn’t come up with his own headline, but really….

  51. ARGO FAN

    So licoln movie is a big lie…shame on steven spielberg and kusher for fooling the innocent public. They should be immediately disqualified from oscars. Thanks rep for disclosing the truth.

    P.s. this is a sarcastic comment. I wrote this cause last time one pathetic idiot did not even understand the sarcasm

  52. And the real joke is that how many of you even knew this before the flap hit the air? How many of you? Cause if ya did why didn’t you say something before when you all were discussing Lincoln? The reason is because most of us didn’t really pay attention to the individual ballot casting of the states. We paid attention to the outcome of the ballot casting. It was a dramatic moment but how many of you are now just jumping on bandwagon that you didn’t even know about before the congressman made any comments?

    People learning history from movies. So does that mean that they’re getting their degrees from Fox Searchlight?

  53. Sasha Stone

    Second, the problem with “Lincoln” is that it’s the story of a world giant and it’s an adaptation of a highly acclaimed historian’s book. Fair or not, the bar is set higher in terms of “truthiness.”

    No more than Argo or Zero Dark Thirty. These are great movies, all three of them. Nitpicking means less of them in the future. I have never once said a single thing about Argo’s lack of veracity because Affleck has said again and again that he took artistic license – so did Spielberg and Kushner say again and again that it was still a movie. And that they took artistic license…

  54. Sasha Stone

    “everyone wants to tell the Academy what to do ”

    no comment

    Yeah, thanks a lot Bob. You can only stand by the road and watch the kitten get hit by a truck so many times before you have to try to rescue the fucking kitten. There is room for both on the web. I’m not going to try to be the New York Times or Gold Derby. I have never pretended otherwise so your “no comment” only stings me as your friend. You telling me that as a reader is stating the obvious. And restating it. And restating it again.

  55. Sasha Stone

    he represents Connecticut and he is doing his job by reason of his office in this case.

    He was trying to publicly embarrass Spielberg and co. the week that ballots go out. If it wasn’t about the Oscars he would have waited. Politicians know how politics work.

  56. Sasha Stone

    Well, it’s serious.
    I’ m very disappointed whit Kushner.
    Artistical license is one thing; it’a a lie.
    After that, Kushner can say goodbye to his chances at Oscars.
    Terrio – now for one more reason – will win.

    Sad for you that you see the Oscars that way.

  57. Sasha Stone

    So using his definition did this thing happen the answer is no CT did NOT vote 2 against the Ammendment. That would make it ahistorical/pure fiction correct?

    You were under the impression Lincoln was a historical documentary like they show on the history channel? Don’t you know what writers do?

  58. Sasha Stone

    Bunch of conspiracy theorists out there. “Before the Oscars” plea? You mean, he might have watched the film while it was still in theaters and saw the error? *gasp*! The government is out to sabotage Lincoln so that Argo can win… I mean, the government is secretly rooting for Zero Dark Thirty, helping Argo is just a smoke screen.

    If you don’t think that is what was behind this you have not been paying attention to the Oscar race. Think about the timing. Have I taught you nothing?

  59. Sasha Stone

    The sad thing is there will be no Backlash against Affleck for scheming the smear in the first place.

    Well that’s true because of the movie star halo effect but Affleck had nothing to do with it – either his publicist did or the politician dude did it himself to “help” Ben. Probably a little of both. If I found out Affleck had anything to do with it in any way I would be really heartbroken. He seems like a nice guy.

  60. Sasha Stone

    Though I don’t think everything in an historic drama has to follow all the facts literally, I don’t think Kushner’s response makes a very strong case about why he changed the facts about Connecticut’s votes in the movie.

    I think he does. I also don’t like how now he’s being treated like some sort of liar, lazy writer and criminal. Is this really what it is going to come down to, the Oscar race every year, this kind of crap? We will strangle art.

  61. rufussondheim

    I still don’t understand why he made the change, I’d have to see the film again before I made any concrete accusations, but it is a curious change that makes no sense to me. I mean, he could toss in two no votes from just about anywhere, why choose Connecticut? Why not choose a state that actually gave the no votes.

    I’m not saying he’s lazy, or careless or whatever. I just don’t think his explanation makes any sense.

  62. Pierre de Plume

    P.s. this is a sarcastic comment. I wrote this cause last time one pathetic idiot did not even understand the sarcasm

    ARGO FAN, I’m pretty sure I’m the “pathetic idiot” you’re referring to. As I said then, I appreciate good sarcasm when it’s well done. However, if one must label it as such, what’s the point unless you’re merely disguising the fact that you’re just lashing out?

  63. And that, my friends, is why Kushner is brilliant. I love this man and I love this film.

  64. “I’d have to see the film again before I made any concrete accusations, but it is a curious change that makes no sense to me.”

    I’ll have to watch again too, and next time with an eye to the way the Connecticut congressmen were employed to dramatic effect throughout the film.

    But I already get the sense that Kushner may have used Connecticut as a sort of foil, because when watching the film on previous occasions I had the impression that the scenes in Congress needed a clear antagonist, and those individuals simply served that purpose.

    So, in the same way there are composite characters in every historical film, Kushner might have chosen to develop a strong individual focus of opposition (rather than have the opposition scattered and diluted among a bunch of unfamiliar stragglers — adding even more characters to an already densely populated film). This way the opposition can be personified without introducing even more names for the audience to memorize.

    It honestly all slipped past me so smoothly, I have never once felt an animosity toward Connecticut in any of the 4 times I’ve seen Lincoln. The dissent was not pinned to Connecticut as a Scarlet Letter of shame or anything nearly that overt. Not in my experience of the film or those scenes as they unfolded. It just served as clear reminder that there were holdouts even among he most sophisticated areas of the country.

    Now that’s just by impression in retrospect — I’m only relaying the feeling I’ve had on past viewings when I was oblivious and ignorant of the precise facts.

    Did anyone of you come away from Lincoln harboring hard feelings about Connecticut? If so, wow, that’s kinda weird of you. Unless you’re a Congressman, why would anyone take this so personally?

    I’m from Kentucky but Michael Stulberg’s scenes as KY congressman sure didn’t leave me feeling that Kentucky was in any way a big heroic savior during the Civil War era. I guess because I’m smart enough to know better.

    (That KY congressman character George Yeamen was apparently a lawyer and served as local judge in the little town where I was born, but never in any classroom during my education in Kentucky was his name ever mentioned. Not Once. I never heard of him until I saw Lincoln. But that doesn’t mean I now view Yeamen as being singularly instrumental in freeing the slaves. Again, because I’m smart enough to realize his vote was just one the 119 votes corralled for passage of the 13th Amendment.

    I’m sort of glad that Kushner didn’t go into exacting detail about how every one of those 119 men cast those 119 votes. I respect the choice to create composite attitudes to clarify the conflicts in Congress.

    Sorry if any modern-day Connecticuters are butt-hurt about this. I hope it makes you feel better to know Lincoln didn’t make me start thinking you’re all a bunch of cantankerous pro-slavery antagonists up there.

  65. “Sad for you that you see the

    Oscars that way.”

    Sasha, I really think it’ sserious. Is someting like that happened to Argo, The Madter ou Perks I would have the same mind.
    But it’s not the point if my comment.
    It really can ends Kushner chances. I think Terrio is going to win for much.more than this – ARGO FUCK YOURSELF won’t be dennied.
    But it’s a delicate thing for Kushner.
    We remember Crowe in hotel in 2001 and that interview whit Depardieu in 1990, don’t we?

  66. Sasha Stone

    I still don’t understand why he made the change, I’d have to see the film again before I made any concrete accusations, but it is a curious change that makes no sense to me. I mean, he could toss in two no votes from just about anywhere, why choose Connecticut? Why not choose a state that actually gave the no votes.

    If you’ve ever written a screenplay or a play you’ll know that it’s mostly instinctual – you’re following a rhythm, building a sense of drama — what I liked about Connecticut was that it was a northern state and so it makes the point that it wasn’t just a north vs. south thing, which it wasn’t. Sorry to contradict that congressman but if you were a free black man walking the streets of Connecticut back then you would get spit on. So though they voted no it doesn’t mean they weren’t as opposed to equality as everyone else back then. The vote caught almost all of the politicians unawares. The only fucking abolitionist in the room was Thaddeus Stevens. The rest of them were voting something they didn’t really understand. BIG picture people.

  67. Fabinho, something like that DID happen to Argo. Actually, a lot more than that. The hostages were actually shielded in two different places, one of the people who really helped hide them was omitted from the movie, the assistance the Canadian government provided was downplayed so much that Affleck changed one of the end titles of the movie after Canada protested, and there was no assembling of faces from shredded documents or chasing the plane at the end. I’d say that’s a much more meaningful change than 2 out of 190 votes.

  68. ARGO FUCK YOURSELF won’t be dennied.

    Possibly the saddest commentary of the whole Oscar charade. If that comes to pass, demoralizing.

    Oscar Winner for Best Dumbest Wordplay of the Year! I see 50 wittier lines on Twitter every single day.

  69. rufussondheim

    Oh, there were a lot more “radical” Republicans than Thaddeus Stephens, Sasha. Goodwin doesn’t spend much time naming names here so I can’t recal anyway, she always just lumps them together as one amorphous group and labels them “radicals.”

    Looking back on the film, I’m sure that Stephens, while most definitely real, also served as a composite character representing a group of Congressmen, not just himself.

  70. rufussondheim

    Maybe he means that Argo won’t be forced to go to Denny’s and get a Grand Slam breakfast.

    Still not witty, but at least it makes more sense.

  71. Pierre de Plume

    I like your rationale, Ryan.

    There are people in Minnesota who still angrily refuse to see Fargo because they’ve heard the funny accents make them look silly.

  72. Lines like “Argo fuck yourself” are a plague. It’s the Diablocodification of screenwriting.

  73. connecticut says nay …

    loooool

  74. I am starting to like Lincoln
    lol

  75. I have a question for Sasha. Do you think that the criticism of Kushner might actually work in his favor at the Writers’ Guild Awards? Most writers, especially writers of historical fiction, must have encountered, at one time or another,criticism of the choices they’ve made in massaging facts to create a certain dramatic tension. In this case, you have a barely perceptible fact-massage which does nothing to the integrity of the overall historical narrative but which is nevertheless being trumpeted as a terrible error. Other writers might be more inclined to vote for Kushner’s screenplay because they know what it’s like to be in his situation. What do you think?

  76. Do you think that the criticism of Kushner might actually work in his favor at the Writers’ Guild Awards?

    [Ryan’s hand shoots up, waves faster than Tracy Flick.]

    It might strike a chord with many of the smarter writers. Unfortunately the ballots for the WGA awards were all turned in before the deadline — on January 25th.

  77. Pierre de Plume

    That’s an interesting point, Liz. How much it would affect Academy voting is a tough question because I don’t think it seems like such a big deal to them – and that’s if they’re even aware of the matter.

  78. No, it’s not.
    ARGO FUCK YOURSELF is just a funny and remarkable line.
    It’s not a sad commentary or a pleage. You wish… but it’s not.
    Pleague is Cuba Gooding Jr’s Show Me the Money.
    I hope you can understand the difference.

  79. Rob, I can understand what you say.
    I’m not saying a writter can’ use a artistical ou poetic license.
    But as our fella ruffussoundhein, I jus’t can’ t understand a stupid chance for a historical fact. And a change that doesn’t make sense
    That doesn’t help the movie in anything.
    It doesn’r seem to me a poetic licence…

  80. Marshall Flores

    “An artist’s job is to captivate… if we stumble into truth, we got lucky.” – Aaron Sorkin

    And although I’ve been trying my hardest to not go after Argo-boosters because, even if I’m as Team Lincoln as they come, I still really liked that damn film, a) Argo’s historical liberties have been publicized and are, in my mind, a lot more significant than whatever the heck it is Joe Courtney is throwing a hissy fit over, and b) this quote

    “It’s OK to embellish, it’s OK to compress, as long as you don’t fundamentally change the nature of the story and of what happened.” – Ben Affleck, during an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross

    Congressmen like Rep. Courtney jumping headfirst into Oscar season politicking instead of, you know, actually doing their jobs, leaves little doubt as to why Congress has a 14% approval rating.

  81. It doesn’r seem to me a poetic licence…

    Sorry… then can you tell me what it does ‘seem like’?

    Carelessness? — As if Tony Kushner worked on this screenplay for 6 years but put off writing the Congress scenes until the night before they were shot and just got sloppy?

    Maliciousness? — Maybe Kushner got a traffic ticket in New Haven one night and he’s been waiting all these years for a way to get back at Connecticut authorities?

    Tricky trap? — Could be Kushner just wanted to test America’s ability to read a book once in a while, so he planted a mistake to see how long it would take for 300 million of us to notice? (turns out it took quite a while).

    What is it if not a deliberate and carefully considered choice?

    You might not agree with the choice. But it’s kinda of loopy to think the choice wasn’t made for a reason.

    So if you don’t think it’s dramatic license, then tell us another reason.

  82. -Will kushner win an OSCAR?
    -Connecticut says no
    :)

  83. Carelessness? Maliciousness? Theory Conspiracy? Aliens invasions? Oh, please…
    Ryan, I can’t tell the reason for one reason: I don’t know.
    You should ask Kushner.
    But, be incisive or he can write (or speak) for hours and hours and even don’t explain nothing.
    The whole thing is: it’s a bad choice.
    For one reason: desrespect the true vote from Connecticut.
    It’s simple.

  84. @Ryan Adams: I did not mention the airport scene because I specially said one example. Not that every decision in the film of when to use artistic license was appropriate. In case you missed the point, I ask what purpose did changing 2 congressional votes have to progress the plot? Clearly, you don’t have an answer for it, so you digress to sarcasm.

    @Sasha Stone: Yes or no – were facts changed about Connecticut in the film? You’re stuck in your Oscar politicking bubble. For one, the congressman agrees with the rave reviews of Lincoln in his letter. If this was really an attempt to sway the (Oscar) voters, wouldn’t he have been a bit more critical? Or is it just that only Republicans who know how to properly blow something out of proportion?

    But I give you credit, Sasha, for actually explaining why you thought the change was dramatically necessary. It’s Kushner’s screenplay, so he can do what he wishes with it, as Bill O’Reilly did with his Lincoln book. But I was at the TIFF press junket for Argo and Affleck addressed these issues with his film, which I think might be a good habit for filmmakers to do. It shows more consideration. No one, I believe, mistook Argo to be as bound to history as Zero Dark Thirty. Lincoln, however, was praised for historical accuracy while not quite promoting itself as such.

    Hence it opens itself to criticism. Kushner should have, in two simple sentences, said it was not intended to depict Connecticut (present or former) as pro-slavery, but to reveal the North’s complex history. And perhaps explain why Connecticut was the choice.

    Instead Kushner showed he could not accept any criticism, even after the congressman praised the film as a whole, and essentially said, “I wanted to show that some of your Northern ancestors were just as racist as the South, and my New Yorker pride tells me either Connecticut or New Jersey should take the bullet.”

  85. Tony Kushner has spoken and written on this subject for years, including in a 2008 lecture at Harvard called “Historical Fiction and Anxiety” in which he talked about historical dramatic writing as “a marriage between the real and the unreal.” He has always defended the right of dramatic fiction to take liberties and never suggested that was not the case with Lincoln. You can disagree with it, but it’s hugely dishonest to pretend that it’s something he came up with at the last minute to answer an accusation.

  86. Marshall Flores

    Kushner should have, in two simple sentences, said it was not intended to depict Connecticut (present or former) as pro-slavery, but to reveal the North’s complex history. And perhaps explain why Connecticut was the choice.

    Though it isn’t in two simple sentences, Kushner *does* say that in his response:

    The congressman is incorrect in saying that the state was “solidly” pro-Lincoln. Lincoln received 51.4 percent of the Connecticut vote in the 1864 election, the same kind of narrow support he received in New York and New Jersey. As Connecticut Civil War historian Matthew Warshauer has pointed out, “The broader context of Connecticut’s history doesn’t reflect what Courtney had said in his letter. The point is we weren’t unified against slavery.” We didn’t dig into this tangled regional history in Lincoln because a feature-length dramatic film obviously cannot accommodate the story of every state, and more to the point, because that’s not what the movie was about.

  87. @ Rob, Not sure you’re talking to me or not. But if you are, I believe you distorted a few of my points.

    You’re right that dramatic fiction can take liberties. Lincoln might have been in the unfortunate crossfire between Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, which both raised the issue of accuracy. Since slavery is a more sensitivity subject in this country than – say – the Canadians’ role in Argo (which Canada would be within its right to criticize).

    Kushner should have been aware that some changes might be seen as controversial and understand that he’s not entitled to a free pass, as is no screenwriter or artist.

    I didn’t say it was a last minute excuse… hence why I’m confused if you’re responding to my post above yours.

  88. @Marshall Flores – I know, but it was after much guarding his premises. I know he’s not a writer known for brevity, but the lengthier his response, the more vulnerable his argument is. He points out New Jersey and New York had similar 51% support for Lincoln, yet he choose Connecticut?

    He defends his dramatic liberties, while delving into inaccuracies in the congressman’s revisionist claims. Both a screenwriter and a politician have motives to twist history to elicit a certain effect on an audience.

    He was smart, though, not to say too much about the Oscars. Although, I would have ignored that altogether. Regardless, Kushner’s lengthy response is either due to him feeling attacked or to publicize the film – since Lincoln’s spotlight has faded a bit over the past few months.

  89. “So if you don’t think it’s dramatic license, then tell us another reason”

    mistake, bigger if it is a license… he could have told the same things without this “license” so if it is true he did a bad writing choice. A mistake is a mistake and with grace one should embrace it… if not… it’s a shame.

  90. To MarshallFlores
    Kushner probably thought New York and New Jersey would have more high profile abolitionists than Connecticut.

    HEre’s my take on it..
    Kushner, because he didn’t mention the names of those who voted against the amendment (or even the Connecticut congressman who voted for it) thought he could poetically represent the attitudes of the North by spreading the nay votes out a bit amongst the upper eastern states as well. I think he didn’t want all the nay-votes coming from upper south and midwestern states. Because he didn’t mention names and because obviously 49% of the Connecticut population nearly voted for the pro-slavery McClellan in the presidental election, he figured spreading the nay-votes out amongst the Northern states would represent the conflicted attitudes of the North…It was a mistake because in doing so, it diminished the efforts and sacrifices made by Connecticut congressmen who voted with their conscience rather than with 49% of their state. But since he didn’t name anyone, he probably figured no harm, no faul.. This was not done out of malicious intent or even carelessly, but it was a mistake. He could have found another way to suggest that New England states weren’t as enlightened as they like to claim without stating that congressmen voted against an amendment. I think he thought it was a white lie that wouldn’t misrespresent the attitudes of the time (or cast any specific person in a bad light) and that even though the details are slightly wrong, the general truth was still being told.

  91. Marie – you are, as ever, the voice of reason. Probably the most viable explanation yet.

    A simple acknowledgment of the mistake would take nothing away from a great screenplay.

    Does this mean that every screenplay based on real events must be vetted now, prior to filming? If we add a new AMPAS category – best fact-checking – would that maybe diminish some of the campaign mud-slinging or limit it to its own category, at least?

  92. oh yes sure, lets make a movie where the netherlands/belgium/whatever is on the wrong side of history during WWII, because some in these countries supported the german. If somebody complains…, well its historical drama.
    Not very convincing argument.

  93. Actually, Phineas, that’s a very convincing argument. The point of view would be from whomever the film was about, wouldn’t it? And the same kind of conflict over the script could conceivably erupt as a result. I hadn’t thought of it that way until you brought it up.

  94. Akumax and Phineas,
    I’m glad you came and understood. :)
    It’s simple, isn’t it?

  95. lets make a movie where the netherlands/belgium/whatever is on the wrong side of history during WWII, because some in these countries supported the german.

    Fabinho, Akumax, Phineas,

    You guys do realize that any decision an individual Congressman makes does not implicate the entire population of his state in that decision, right?

    So the comparison of a movie that depicts the entire country of Belgium as Nazi Belgium just because there were Nazi sympathizers in Belgium sounds more like an ignorant whine than a valid argument.

    I’ll ask you guys again. Even if a Connecticut congressman did vote against the 13th Amendment, would that make you feel animosity to the entire state of Connecticut? If anyone can answer yes to that question, then I’d have say he’s an idiot.

  96. Actually, if you read your history, it’s pretty clear that one of the Connecticut congressmen only changed his vote from “no” to “yes” because of political patronage. Should that have been represented too?

  97. I love how everybody who’s been complaining that the scenes revolving around individual votes in Congress went on a little long for their liking are now demanding that every single member of Congress in 1865 is entitled to his own detailed subplot in Tony Kushner’s screenplay. 175 new speaking roles so we can definitively depict how each one voted.

  98. While I agree that artistic license must exist for the purposes of dramatizing history, Kushner’s logic sort of sucks. Here’s what he wrote, “‘Did this thing happen?’ If the answer is yes, then it’s historical… Then ask, ‘Did this thing happen precisely this way?’ If the answer is yes, then it’s history; if the answer is no, not precisely this way, then it’s historical drama.”

    Basically, whenever I don’t like the facts, I re-write it. I don’t think that’s how he intended it, but he should mention either the broader narrative thrust is aligned with history or the stylization of the film permits leniency of certain facts to achieve the writer’s or director’s vision (key word, “stylization”). Without those key two arguments, it just sounds like one has no responsibility with the truth, which I don’t believe is what his argument is… but then again, I have no reason not to believe otherwise either.

  99. @Ryan

    With my previous post I just want to stress that there are limits concerning changing facts in historical dramas. (We are not talking about Abraham Lincoln-Vampire Hunter.)
    The problem here is, does Kushner cross the border, when he let connecticut vote nay in order to illustrate that the North was not united in the question of abolition. well, I think it was not necessary, he could have added more scenes Lincoln discussing with people opposing abolition. No need to let CT vote no. I can understand if people like Rep Courtney are complaining.
    So imo Kushner/Spielberg should change it in the DVD version. (or just drop these 15 seconds)

  100. Okay Phineas

    Your analogy is a bit over the top. Kushner owes the descendents of 2 or 3 Connecticut congressmen an apology at most. He does not owe the state of connecticut anything. Considering that nearly half of the state voted for an anti-emancipation presidential candidate, he has not really misrepresented the state itself by having its states’ representives being divided on the issue. The only people who really have a right to complain are the four congressmen’s descendents because obviously at least three of those guys voted with their conscience. According to Rob on this board, one of those congressmen changed his vote to yes because of patronage. some of you people are over-reacting.

  101. @Ryan Adams, No one said every single member’s subplot is entitled into the film. You’re again dodging how the change benefited the story. Scroll up and read Sasha’s response since she’s at least in the right ballpark with an appropriate response.

    Again, you’re digressing to sarcasm and hyperbole instead dashing in thoughtful analysis as usual. It’s too easy, and asks too little of your readers, to accept what we’re told without question. To accept Kushner’s terms for historical fiction, instead of challenging it.

  102. No one said every single member’s subplot is entitled into the film. You’re again dodging how the change benefited the story.

    You’re dodging my answer. You didn’t read my really long comment above. I explained what I believe is a very effective way to compress the complexity of portraying 50 dissenting members in Congress by having one or two familiar Congressional stand-ins represent that resistant attitude and serve as surrogate antagonists.

    You guys are suddenly hung up on which state is name-dropped, but NONE of you gave that point a second thought until Courtney brought it up. And why didn’t you give a second thought? Because it isn’t important to our understanding of the dynamics of the narrative. You’re now throwing a fit over a minor detail which didn’t merit a lick of your attention when you first saw the film.

    You didn’t care then, nor was there any reason for you to care. The only reason people are pretending to care now is because it serves your agenda to cast grasping dispersions on the film.

    You want to scream and cry because there weren’t enough black faces shown populating in the White House in 1865, but none of you Lincoln bashers seems to give a damn that there were no Latino actors in Argo — a movie where the main character is named Tony Mendez.

    HISTORICAL FACT: the actual Tony Mendez was not lily-white.

    but nah, you’d rather wail about defending some guy who’s a footnote in a history book you never cared to read — a congressman NONE of you can even name. Outrage so faux it’s absurd.

  103. @Ryan
    Well, the title of this Post is:
    “Screenwriter Tony Kushner Responds to Congressman”,
    so I thought it is ok to post comments about my opinion about Kushners respond.
    If Sasha would not have posted this story, I would not have comment on this :)

  104. ^^^^
    shoulb be

    If Sasha would not have posted this story

  105. Tony, you’re one of the greatest writers around today. You don’t need to get snippy. Your explanation of “it’s historical fiction, we took a few licenses, didn’t mean to offend” is fine. But why are you giving this guy attitude? Because he may not share your political stripe. Petty much? You admit the guy was right about the historical license you took? Then you say” hey, this guy is knowledgeable enough (or fact-check-y enough) AND interested in my movie enough to notice this? Good for him. Leave the snippiness for Tommy Lee Jones’s dialogue.

  106. Yes, Let’s all give the Pulitzer Prize-winner advice about how he should express himself.

  107. Marshall Flores

    Yeah, Pulitzer Prize winners for some reason don’t earn the right to express themselves in whatever way they deem appropriate. Just like when some were piling on Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Proulx and telling her how she should’ve expressed herself after seeing Brokeback Mountain lose BP to Crash 7 years ago, instead of penning that still-devastating post-mortem calling out the Oscars for what they tend to be – a freakshow.

  108. Ryan, this is not the point of the question. You’re running in circles.
    The point is: Kushner, who knows for what absurd reason, changed this unnecessarily.
    And since this was posted here, everyone gave their opinion.
    And, excuse me? You are criticizing the absence of Latino actors in Argo and Ben Affleck, who lives Tony Mendez, being a white American?
    I assume that the American President Lincoln be played by a British actor named Daniel Day-Lewis, is more natural for you …
    This is a total lack of arguments is ridiculous … Running in cycles. Wag the dog! Wag the dog!
    By the way, we’re all used to being called here stupid, idiots, assholes, etc, by OWNERS / MODERATORS / MANAGERS this blog
    Especially when we do not agree with their opinions.
    Honestly, it does not hurt …

  109. @Ryan Adams – “The only reason people are pretending to care now is because it serves your agenda to cast grasping dispersions on the film.”

    Not my agenda. My choice would be Amour, but I’ve already come to terms that’s a longshot.

    Perhaps I missed your earlier post. There’s a lot of comments here.

  110. And tonight Jay Leno jumped on this story and with dignity put this entire ridiculous episode into context. His staff after viewing Lincoln again decided they needed to point out some other historical errors in the film. There’s a scene where Lincoln and Seward are riding in a carriage through the streets discussing that they will inevitably win the war and suddenly like magic a Federal Express truck speeds past them. Then Leno’s staff revealed that as Mary Todd Lincoln stood in the receiving line speaking to Stevens that she was holding a small electronic fan cooling herself as she spoke. Then they revealed that Lincoln while sitting in the telegraph room was using his blackberry.

    They did all that in less than two minutes and one has to applaud them for making it clear how stupid this entire discussion is. Of course there will be those who will stand and flail their arms about crying “but oh Kushner deceived us ….Kushner was supposed to be teaching history …Kushner was …Kushner was ….” What’s amazing to me is that the last vestige of Lincoln that hadn’t been ripped apart by it’s various critics was the screenplay. Now someone has given a group of [expletive deleted]to rally about so they can now attack the screenplay.

    Film historians probably won’t even acknowledge this little skirmish and if they do I would imagine they’ll laugh at it. And everyone who saw Lincoln and never even noticed the discrepancy will now feel so much more intelligent because they learned something from a Congressman who obviously has nothing better to do with his time. I’d bet the Congressman didn’t even know until one of his aids probably pointed it out to him. Hell he wasn’t doing so well getting his constituents relief from Hurricane Sandy.

    I don’t really care if Lincoln’s screenplay is factual. I don’t care if Argo’s screenplay is factual. I don’t care if Zero’s screenplay is factual. What I care about is that their screenplays are intelligent, cohesive, and tell a story that provides entertainment, that challenges my intellect, that moves me emotionally and makes me want to applaud their work.

  111. Tero Heikkinen

    The state of Connecticut is free to produce their own version of the film. Just like Iran is making their version of Argo.

  112. Tero Heikkinen

    ..of the 13th amendment.

    Not to alter this film. Spielberg would not approve. They tried to cut the nude scenes of Schindler’s List in Malaysia, Spielberg said that in that case you ain’t seeing a second of the film.

  113. OK, I’ll give the Pulitzer-Prize winner advice on how to express himself… you’re a Pulitzer Prize-winner, so you don’t need to prove yourself to anyone. The guy made a legitimate point. Acknowledge it and move on.

    If you get in the mud with a pig, you just get dirty and the pig likes it.

  114. @John,

    I agree, acknowledge the point, say it wasn’t out of malice or ignorance, and move on.

    It strikes me odd people are offended that a congressman (and/or his state) might be slightly offended by this (or at least want some public recognition that this wasn’t factual). After all, many people still look upon the current South and its conservatives with slight prejudice about their slave past.

    Had Kushner changed, say, Mississippi, to have 50% more yay votes for the 13th Amendment, I think people would be more angered at Kushner, wouldn’t they?

  115. If Tony Kushner wanted a no vote from New England, there was one, from Maine. If he wanted no votes from ‘northern’ states he couldve used New York. In fact, Connecticut’s Congressman English, from New Hsven, was a Democrat who went against his party–which would have been just as dramatic as the start of the scene.

    What makes even less sense is that they appear at the start of the roll call to be calling by state–in which case California wouldve been first–so why didnt Kushner give Hollywood and Spielberg’s home state the no votes instead? Or would they not have liked that representation of their state?

    What also makes little sense is that as the vote progresses it appears to be coming at random simply to build tension–with the hammy device of Mary Todd’s scorecard in case the audience cant keep track

    As with Argo’s misrepresentation of the UK and NZ embassies attitudes toward the escapees, it’s one of those throwaway things that makes little difference dramatically, but leaves a bad taste, because obviously, the writers just dont think it’s as important to create tension without reversing facts.

Leave a Comment

Warning: Do not abuse your right to comment here. You will be deleted.