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'Lincoln,' Texas, and the Oscars: Why getting history right matters

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This last statement is disconcerting. It is true that the vote was so close, the stakes so high, and the outcome so important that it would change the course of history, but should accuracy be set aside for the sake of drama? Like all good films, “Lincoln” had its tragic hero and antagonists. But the film is based on a biography of a real president, and the antagonists were real people. And the film is billed as – and most viewers will see it as – historically valid.

Public opinion is shaped through popular portrayals like this, and most filmgoers will accept the “Lincoln” drama as realistic biography. So its factual shortcomings should not be discounted. I’ve seen first-hand the problems that arise from a popular historical narrative that doesn’t get the story fully right.

When I was in elementary school in San Antonio, I experienced, without realizing it, a filter on my history and my heroes. Just about every year, at the beginning of March, we celebrated the Independence of Texas at my predominantly Latino school. We all read about the heroes of the Alamo, James Bowie and Davy Crockett, with his famous coonskin cap. If we were lucky, we got to wear a replica of his hat and his gun “ol’ Betsy,” and look just like our hero.

We learned how they freed Texas from the “savages” and how Stephen F. Austin made Texas a Republic, becoming the “father of Texas.” The celebration was sometimes choreographed with a play or a parade. Some children were fortunate to play the role of a Texas hero, while other, not-so fortunate children, were forced to play the role of the Mexican army. Someone has to play the bad guy, right?

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