Wow, how about that history that played itself out in the House of Representatives yesterday and this morning? I often tell my students that when we think that we live in politically and culturally chaotic and divisive times, we should remind ourselves of past years like 1968. But you know, so far 2016 seems to be quickly moving into 1968’s league (let’s pray it never includes any political assassinations, but I think we all have that unspoken fear in regards to one of the candidates in particular). With a Republican convention still upcoming that will likely have drama on the floor and massive protests on the outside, the parallels with 1968 will become even more interesting.
Best thing about the sit-in? John Lewis. This guy is a bonafide American hero, and his leadership yesterday has added to his legacy. There was a lot of predictable criticism of what the Speaker of the House deemed a “publicity stunt,” but you know, when reading much of it on social media and listening to it on TV, I was struck by how so much of it sounded a lot like the negative responses that Civil Rights activists faced in the 1950s and 1960s (bad timing, publicity stunt, not the way to enact change, sacredness of the Constitution, etc etc). No matter how you feel about what was or was not accomplished (or whether you agree with what they were trying to accomplish), we have to acknowledge that if there is anyone alive that knows when a sit-in is called for, it is John Lewis. I think we should remind ourselves of that.
So here is a unique angle to take on what happened in the House: with those images of representatives sitting on the floor, one might have noticed the carpet there more than in the past. So, Smithsonian has a short piece on Congressional carpets, and it is more interesting than you might think. “In fact, how Congress treats its carpets can tell you something about the political climate that’s afoot.”
The long anticipated film, Free State of Jones starts tomorrow! Unfortunately, however, some of the reviews have been less that stellar (mostly lukewarm). Still, the review in the New York Times by A.O. Scott is very positive, and Victoria Bynum (the historian that wrote the book the film is largely based on) tweeted it out today with the comment that the reviewer seemed to understand the filmmakers’ “chosen task,” was to present a “true story in authentic historical context.” Christian McWhirter has expressed fear that the emphasis on strict historical accuracy might weaken the film’s quality and narrative success, but Scott’s review and Bynum’s tweet has restored some of my optimism after the poor reviews. That is especially true because the Times review praises director Gary Ross for making a film that harkened to the spirit of such old-school Hollywood classics like Viva Zapata! and Shane. Even more encouraging, the reviewer notes that Ross seems to buck two habits of so many films these days that drive me crazy. “Mr. Ross,” the reviewer notes, “has an old-fashioned faith in the power of editing, and in the ability of the audience to imagine what he refrains from showing explicitly.” And, “There is nothing wrong with a story that has clear heroes and villains.” Hurrah on both counts! Lastly, Scott notes that the film demolishes the Lost Cause view of the Confederacy and Reconstruction, replacing it with interpretations that historians have long reached consensus upon: “the Glorious Cause of the Confederacy was a rapacious and exploitative cotton-based capitalist economy, and that the resistance to Reconstruction was intended to restore that system.” This is what we all hoped the film would do, so I hope the lukewarm reviews are wrong and that it is a good piece of filmmaking that will attract a large audience. A friend and former colleague of mine at the Richmond National Battlefield Park, Mike Gorman, was a historical consultant on the visuals of the battle and camp scenes (he also worked on Spielberg’s Lincoln), so I will be interested to see his influence on the film. I’ll be seeing it Friday afternoon, and will post my thoughts as soon as possible! (I just know you are waiting with bated breath).