"Dear Mr. Spielberg," Courtney writes. "After finally sitting down to watch your Academy Award-nominated film, Lincoln, I can say unequivocally that the rave reviews are justified."
"The historical accuracy of the film’s moving conclusion, however? Well, that is a different story."
What has Courtney up in arms is this: The members of Connecticut's delegation to the 38th Congress voted unanimously in support of Lincoln's 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. In Lincoln, Spielberg has two out of three voting against the measure (and there's no word on the whereabouts of that fourth guy).
Courtney, who was a history major at Tufts University, also happens to be a proud member of Connecticut's delegation to the 113th Congress, and he'd like Spielberg to set the record straight.
"In many movies," Courtney writes, "suspending disbelief is part of the cinematic experience and is critical to enjoying the film."
"But in a movie based on significant real-life events -- particularly a movie about a seminal moment in American history...accuracy is paramount."
In the letter, posted on his Congressional website, Courtney asks Spielberg and DreamWorks to consider correcting the error before the release of the DVD -- or at least acknowledging the inaccuracy.
What's perhaps most remarkable about the Congressman's catch is not that he caught the error, but that no one else did first.
Not only does the error seem obvious -- Connecticut was a firmly pro-abolition, pro-Union state during the Civil War -- but the accuracy of Spielberg's direction and screenwriter Tony Kushner's meticulously researched script have been widely praised for accuracy and fact-checked for the (mostly small) anachronisms.
And yet nobody -- not until Joe Courtney, anyway -- managed to catch this one.
Below, the full text of Rep. Courtney's open letter to Spielberg:
Dear Mr. Spielberg,
After finally sitting down to watch your Academy Award-nominated film, Lincoln, I can say unequivocally that the rave reviews are justified: Daniel Day-Lewis is tremendous, the story is compelling and consuming, and the cinematography is beautiful.
The historical accuracy of the film’s moving conclusion, however? Well, that is a different story.
As a Member of Congress from Connecticut, I was on the edge of my seat during the roll call vote on the ratification of the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery. But when two of three members of the Nutmeg State’s House delegation voted to uphold slavery, I could not believe my own eyes and ears. 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?
After some digging and a check of the Congressional Record from January 31, 1865, I learned that in fact, Connecticut’s entire Congressional delegation, including four members of the House of Representatives -- Augustus Brandegee of New London, James English of New Haven, Henry Deming of Colchester and John Henry Hubbard of Salisbury -- all voted to abolish slavery. Even in a delegation that included both Democrats and Republicans, Connecticut provided a unified front against slavery.
In many movies, including your own E.T. and Gremlins, for example, suspending disbelief is part of the cinematic experience and is critical to enjoying the film. But in a movie based on significant real-life events -- particularly a movie about a seminal moment in American history so closely associated with Doris Kearns Goodwin and her book, Team of Rivals -- accuracy is paramount.
I understand that artistic license will be taken and that some facts may be blurred to make a story more compelling on the big screen, but placing the State of Connecticut on the wrong side of the historic and divisive fight over slavery is a distortion of easily verifiable facts and an inaccuracy that should be acknowledged, and if possible, corrected before Lincoln is released on DVD.
Rep. Joe Courtney