Robert E. Lee: Civil Rights Leader

Here is a short clip of Tom Dugan portraying Robert E. Lee.  There is a short interview with Dugan and the director, but the clip that I found most interesting was Dugan’s portrayal of Lee’s views on slavery and race.  What you get is a very loose reading of the historical record and a great deal of fantasy.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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9 comments… add one
  • Bummer Dec 4, 2012 @ 11:50

    Bummer thinks that Day-Lewis is a great actor, that he takes every roll to heart and tries to live in the skin of whoever he’s portraying. Lincoln’s voice in the movie was a little hard to handle, but maybe that’s the way he spoke. This “old guy” has a hard time closing my eyes and picturing this dude as Robert E. Lee, but that is just one opinion.


  • Michael Lynch Dec 4, 2012 @ 10:04

    I think it’s always legitimate for historians to crtitique any artistic or dramatic work that deals with the past. But I also think that all instances of historical error and uses of dramatic license are not created equal. There’s nothing wrong with cutting more slack to a screenwriter who plays up the tension or significance of some event for dramatic effect, fiddles with timing, or whatever than to somebody who crafts a portrayal of a person and drastically misrepresents his or her beliefs or personality.

    Differences in what an observer hopes to get out of a dramatic work also play a role in evaluating it. Going in, I was more interested in how convincingly Daniel Day-Lewis would portray Lincoln than in the film’s handling of the Thirteenth Amendment, military strategy, material culture, and so on. I thought his performance was great, so my overall reaction to the film was positive. If my primary interest going in had been how well the film handled African-American agency or the Hampton Roads conference, my reaction might’ve been different. It’s sort of like paying to see an effects-laden blockbuster with cardboard characters–you want explosions and you get explosions, so you leave satisfied; you want Oscar bait and the human element, you go home disappointed. Personally, I was paying to see DDL’s Lincoln, and I feel like I got my money’s worth. People who paid to see other aspects of the film might have had a different reaction, based on what they expected and what they wanted out of the experience.

    (Sorry if this comment is riddled with typos. I typed it on my phone and my fingers are clumsy.)

  • Rumford Dec 4, 2012 @ 6:41

    “What you get is a very loose reading of the historical record and a great deal of fantasy.”

    Funny. Couldn’t the exact same thing be said about Daniel Day-Lewis’s much more recent portrayal of Lincoln?

    Or are historians still supposed to tread cautiously around that so as not to conflate their craft with the artistry of the medium? Maybe we ought to allow these guys some of that “artistic license” you’ve been talking about so much recently.

    • Richard Williams Dec 4, 2012 @ 7:17

      Your comment pretty much sums up my reaction as well. I attempted to post a similar – albeit much briefer – comment several times, but the site kept timing out. Not sure what happened.

      • Kevin Levin Dec 4, 2012 @ 7:28


        Your comments went into my spam folder. Sorry about that. Hopefully it won’t happen again.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 4, 2012 @ 7:31

      You said: “Funny. Couldn’t the exact same thing be said about Daniel Day-Lewis’s much more recent portrayal of Lincoln?”

      I agree depending on what kind of analysis you bring to the table. Over the past few days I’ve written quite a bit about Spielberg’s Lincoln and the intersection of history and fiction. Not every historical film or one-man stage show are equal. If you believe that Dugan’s interpretation of Lee’s view of slavery is in line with the available historical record than so be it. We would probably disagree on the degree of freedom to be granted here.

  • Barbara Gannon Dec 4, 2012 @ 6:21

    As we said in the Army “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.” What a bunch of lies. Lousy accent also.

  • Richard Williams Dec 4, 2012 @ 6:05

    “What you get is a very loose reading of the historical record and a great deal of fantasy.”

    Perhaps he’s following the Spielberg model.

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