A prominent human rights activist says Hollywood films and other media portray a false account of US history, perpetuating great harm to Americans and the rest of the world.
On the latest episode of Press TV’s Cinepolitics, panelists discuss Hollywood’s impact on global politics and society, with a particular examination of Steven Spielberg’s use of psychological manipulation and disinformation in his recent film “Lincoln”.
Press TV has conducted an interview with Ken O’Keefe, human rights activist, to further discuss the issue. O’Keefe is joined by Maria Duarte, a film critic with The Morning Star
. The following is a rough transcription of the interview.
How accurate was this portrayal?
It was another nauseating example of Hollywood propaganda and it really has no resemblance to the truth.
In fact, there was another Lincoln movie that came out earlier that year, Lincoln the Vampire Slayer, and I reckon that there was just about as much - I’m not kidding when I say there’s just about as much evidence to support Lincoln as a vampire slayer as there is about him wanting the end of slavery and freeing black people. There’s no historical truth to that whatsoever.
Lincoln’s life is a testament to the fact that he was a man of his time. He used the word n***** repeatedly in his life. He never had any kind of an epiphany and changed his perspective. He never cared anything about freeing the slaves.
This was all about concentrating power, maintaining the union and concentrating more power in the Federal government.
The implications of that bloody war, Civil War, and concentration of power into the Federal government, we see to this very day. That’s why I’m not going to forgive Spielberg or the propagandists of Hollywood for this kind of junk because it perpetuates myths that cause great harm in this world.
I have a letter from president [Lincoln] himself to Horace Greeley where he says, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the union; it is not either to save or to destroy slavery.” He goes on to say, “What I do about slavery and the colored race I do because I believe it helps to save this union.”
...Do you think that this Lincoln movie corrects his image? -Because historically, I believe that he was shown as a villain.
Well, there’s no question that in America there’s a cult surrounding the mythological Lincoln and it protects him very, very well.
I suppose there are many important reasons why the powers that be want to maintain this myth because the American people in general don’t want to face many facts about their country. Hell, they’re not even able to understand the fact that it’s not actually a democracy; it’s a republic.
Under a republic, the states are supposed to have rights.
In fact, the Federal government - the original founding fathers envisioned the United States of America, i.e. nation states of America, was that the states would be able to determine their own political reality and that the Federal government would only have so much power as would be required for it to maintain certain duties.
Instead, what we have, and that’s where the implications of this film are quite so profound, is the beginning of the concentration of power to the point that we see the American empire now at this point in time running roughshod over the world.
If that Federal government had been kept in check and the states had been allowed to make up their own minds and decisions, slavery would have ended. Let us not mistake the fact that America’s the only nation in the world that had a bloody civil war that had to deal with slavery.
Every other country in the world managed to do this without such a bloody war. They did it before the United States, as well.
Lincoln was not this great emancipator.
In fact, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free any slaves at all. It only provided the means for slaves in the South that were rebelling against the Union because they were trying to increase taxes and so on and so forth. That’s the only people that it dealt with.
It didn’t do anything to free the slaves up North, and there were slaves there as well.
Really, there’s just so many myths. Again, the implications of maintaining these myths is that the American people and others around the world continue to be in the dark about the real reality of American history. I think that’s an important subject for us to be aware of.
Ken, what do you think about that scene [in the beginning of the movie]?
It was a noxious scene, and it was the first scene in the film.
There is simply no way that black men would have had an audience with the president in that kind of context and actually been affectively sort-of chastising Lincoln for more equality not coming that much quicker. It’s ridiculous!
I can see how it would work on much of the American population because it’s been so dumbed down that most people will swallow whatever is put into their mouths no matter how much rubbish it is. That was an absolutely ridiculous scene. There’s more such scenes like that later on in the film.
Ken, what do you think [of the relationship between Lincoln and his wife]?
Wherever it can take liberty with issues that we can’t possibly know the real details, it does. And where it comes to historical realities, it just blatantly, intentionally, willfully deceives the viewers.
I wouldn’t be surprised if these kind of exchanges are so far from the truth that it bears no resemblance to anything that actually happened. At the same time, I don’t know enough about their personal relationship to say it’s accurate or not.
In the House of Representatives there’s obviously a lot of interaction - the Republicans and Democrats are actually at each other’s throats. How do you think they’ve been portrayed? Was it accurate, their view towards slavery?
Party politics obviously was a factor then as it is now. So, that was definitely somewhat accurate, I would say.
The truth of the matter is that the abolitionists were clearly in the minority. This idea that all the Republicans were very much in agreement about freeing slaves and what not is again completely ridiculous.
Again, when we see these sort of debates and the idea that Republicans are for this and the Democrats are against it, that’s simply not true.
The abolitionists - if you want to give credit to anyone in America for actually helping to bring about the end of slavery or at least get that issue to the floor, it is a very small minority of abolitionists who really did stand for that. It certainly wasn’t Lincoln, that’s for sure.
Somebody, I think a historian, accused the film of exaggerating the possibility that by January the war might have ended with slavery still intact. Do you think that’s an accurate statement to make?
It’s true but the fact is that slavery would have ended one way or the other. In fact, it was becoming quite unprofitable.
The Civil War was really sort of a tax revolt. The union, the Federal government, was exercising powers that were being abused and those abusive powers were translating into higher taxes for the Southerners. This was making life too difficult for them. That is why, ultimately, they revolted. That’s really what this is about.
And the wealth was actually in the South, the cotton mills, the plantations...
Do you think that Spielberg is guilty of presenting possibly a utopian vision of the US?
Yeah, it’s perpetuating the myth. The myth of America is freedom and democracy and so on and so forth. In fact, it’s an empire. It’s the latest empire. Like all other empires, it’s falling and it’s going to continue to go down.
Also, in that scene it shows another one of those lies, that Lincoln was somehow a most adored and loved president. Actually, he was probably one of the most hated, certainly one of the most hated.
Mary says this on the film. His wife, she says you’re one of the most loved.
Yeah, that’s not true at all. Only after he was killed did we find some sympathy for him. Actually, many people in America, in facts large numbers of people would have celebrated his death. He was in fact one of the most hated presidents.
This is just another blatant lie. You cannot say that that is an accident. It’s intentional. It’s a willful intent to deceive the audience.
I read an academic online. She said she was going to be using this film as part of an aid in her history classrooms. I thought, is this the version of events that’s being presented to future generation in textbooks?
I think there are some good teachers out there who will teach in a more accurate understanding.
But largely there is a cult protecting the myth of not only Lincoln but of the US as a whole. Of course, it would be no surprise at all that students are being cheated out of a real understanding of history and ultimately being told this sort of rubbish. This will help perpetuate that kind of misunderstanding.
You’ve mentioned something earlier. Yes, the acting was superb but if you’d done it with the accurate facts, it would have made it all the more better.
With that kind of resource, you know, that kind of acting talent, the producers, everything that’s involved in a movie of that magnitude, if it were done accurately, it would have been a hugely important and beautiful film. I’ll agree, the acting, it’s incredible.
But if you had given the actors a real script that reflected an honest understanding of what had really happened, then it would have been a magnificent film.
Of course, Spielberg is not in the business of making historically accurate films. He’s in the business of propaganda and he’s done it well once again.