Joe Courtney gets in spat with Tony Kushner over ‘Lincoln’

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) has pronounced himself "pleased" that "Lincoln" screenwriter Tony Kushner has acknowledged an ahistorical moment in the acclaimed film.

On Tuesday, Courtney took Kushner and director Steven Spielberg to task for depicting two Connecticut lawmakers as voting against the 13th Amendment. In fact, the entire delegation supported the end of slavery.

“How could congressmen from Connecticut — a state that supported President Lincoln and lost thousands of her sons fighting against slavery on the Union side of the Civil War — have been on the wrong side of history?” he wrote.

Kushner wrote back to say that he had taken some dramatic license with the vote, noting that he made up new names for the lawmaker so as not to inaccurately portray real historical figures.

"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," he explained, adding that the standards for history and historical drama are different. "I hope nobody is shocked to learn that I also made up dialogue and imagined encounters and invented characters."

He was not particularly apologetic.

"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," Kushner wrote. "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."

Despite the mocking tone of the reply, Courtney is mostly satisfied.

“I am pleased that Mr. Kushner conceded that his ‘Lincoln’ screenplay got it wrong on the Connecticut delegation’s votes for the 13th Amendment," the lawmaker said in a new news release. He is hoping for a correction "in advance of the film’s DVD release."

Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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Ed O'Keefe | February 8, 2013