daniel day lewis as lincoln*Kate Masur, an associate professor of history at Northwestern has seen Steven Spielberg’sLincoln,” which opens nationally on Friday. Something about the production is bothering her.

The film is an Oscar shoo-in, especially for Daniel Day Lewis in the title role, but unfortunately, like a lot of Civil War period pieces that have come before, it perpetuates blacks as passive … waiting on the white man to save them.

The first scene is arresting: Two black soldiers speak with the president about their experiences in combat. One, a corporal, raises the problem of unequal promotions and pay in the Union Army. Two white soldiers join them, and the scene concludes as the corporal walks away, movingly reciting the final lines of the Gettysburg Address.

Unfortunately it is all downhill from there, at least as far as black characters are concerned. As a historian who watched the film on Saturday night in Chicago, I was not surprised to find that Mr. Spielberg took liberties with the historical record. As in “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan,” his purpose is more to entertain and inspire than to educate.

But it’s disappointing that in a movie devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery in the United States, African-American characters do almost nothing but passively wait for white men to liberate them.

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