Looking for Lincoln PBS-TV Film Review
By Kam Williams
Checkered Legacy of Lincoln Revisited by PBS Series
What's the truth about Abraham Lincoln? Was he really the man mythologized as "The Great Emancipator" and a champion of equality for African-Americans? Or was he, as some detractors say, a racist only freed the slaves as a last resort to save the Union because the North was losing the Civil War. Or still again, was he, as unrepentant rebels still describe, a traitor of Southern whites who single-handedly ruined the nation forever with the Emancipation Proclamation.
These are the divergent points-of-view of the 16th President of the United States presented in Looking for Lincoln, a 2-part PBS Series hosted by Harvard University Professor Henry Louis "Skip" Gates. Among the historians weighing-in is Ebony Magazine editor Emeritus Lerone Bennett, Jr. author of Forced into Glory, a damning biography which depicts Honest Abe as a hypocrite who enslaved far more blacks than he ever freed. And at the other extreme, Gates interviews some rednecks he tracked down at a sons of the Confederacy convention who looked like they were ready to string him up if he pushed the issue.
Not surprisingly, most of the luminaries participating in the program tend to speak of Lincoln in more glowing terms. Included in this group are Pulitzer Prize-winners Doris Kearns Goodwin and Tony Kushner, former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and Professors David Blight, Allen Guelzo, James Horton and David Herbert.
As usual with his PBS programs, Skip Gates is given to making some of his typically-grating, nails-on-the-blackboard pronouncements, such as "If I had been President, I would have followed the same blueprint." Equally-infuriating is his saying "Doris was right," in going out of his way to rubber-stamp Kearns Goodwin's lame explanation for Abe's decades-long delay in joining the abolitionist movement. "Lincoln had to live in his times," she explains.
Perhaps even more ponderous is her assertion that "It's not Lincoln's fault that he was mythologized" despite her adding to the mystique with her best seller "Team of Rivals." Then, she makes the equally-bizarre claim that he was assassinated "on the happiest day of his life" without providing any conclusive proof to draw such a dramatic conclusion.
Nonetheless, Looking for Lincoln is a worthwhile bio-pic which knocks off his pedestal an American icon undeserving of secular sainthood.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 120 minutes
Looking for Lincoln premieres on PBS on Wednesday, February 11th at 9 PM (ET/PT)
To see a trailer
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