Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln

Politics is a loony business, but as a Connecticut congressman who pointed out inaccuracies in Lincoln found out this week, Oscar campaigning is even loonier.

Connecticut Rep. Joe Courtney (D.-Conn.) wrote a letter earlier this month to Steven Spielberg, Lincoln‘s director, complaining that the movie wrongly depicts Connecticut congressmen as opposing the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. He was merely standing up for his state’s reputation, the congressman insists, but in Hollywood at this time of year everything is viewed through the prism of Oscar voting.

As a result, Courtney found himself responding to suggestions that he wrote and released the letter in an effort to help the chances of Argo winning the Best Picture Oscar. Feeding suspicions of a conspiracy: Ben Affleck, who directed Argo and stars in it, campaigned for Courtney when he successfully ran for Congress in 2006.

“It’s hilarious, that conspiracy theory,” Courtney told the Los Angeles Times when a reporter asked about the Affleck connection. “I’m not smart enough to know when Oscar voting begins.”

Still, a spokesman for Warner Bros., which distributes Argo, felt obliged to distance the studio from Courtney’s letter, telling the Times that it had “no involvement” and expressing “dismay” that anyone might think otherwise.

In his letter, dated Feb. 5, Courtney praised Lincoln, saying that the star, Daniel Day-Lewis, “is tremendous, the story is compelling and consuming, and the cinematography is beautiful.”

“I can say unequivocally that the rave reviews are justified,” Courtney wrote.

But he also argued that “accuracy is paramount” in a film that deals with significant real-life issues.

The movie shows two Connecticut representatives opposing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery. The state’s entire delegation actually supported the amendment, which was championed by President Abraham Lincoln.

“I could not believe my own eyes and ears,” Courtney wrote in the letter, which his office released publicly. “How could Congressmen from Connecticut – a state that supported President Lincoln and lost thousands of her sons fighting against slavery on the Union side of the Civil War – have been on the wrong side of history?”

The film, which has been nominated for 12 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Lead Actor, has been praised for its historical accuracy and lauded for the amount of historical research that went into its making. Tony Kushner, who wrote the screenplay, dismissed Courtney’s complaint, saying the movie deviated from the historical record in order to heighten the drama.

He acknowledged the inaccuracies in a letter to the Wall Street Journal, but added: “In making changes to the voting sequence, we adhered to time-honored and completely legitimate standards for the creation of historical drama, which is what Lincoln is.”

You can read his entire letter here.

Courtney still is hoping the sequence will be changed on the DVD release.

“I understand that artistic license will be taken and that some facts may be blurred to make a story more compelling on the big screen,” he wrote in his letter to Spielberg, “but placing the State of Connecticut on the wrong side of the historic and divisive fight over slavery is a distortion of easily verifiable facts and an inaccuracy that should be acknowledged and, if possible, corrected before Lincoln is released on DVD.”

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  • About Eric Harrison

    Eric Harrison reviewed movies and covered film for a decade for the Los Angeles Times and Houston Chronicle. His movie coverage continues here on InsideMovies.net. You also can read Eric's movie coverage geared to Houston, the nation's fourth largest city, on MovieHouston.com. Find out more at EricHarrison.org.
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