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IN the sub-category of “Life imitating Art” we have Art imitating Art (like a previous Parking Lot post about Star Trek and the West Wing).

I saw Steven Spielberg’s LINCOLN today and loved almost every moment of it. Yes, it is romanticising the past and deifying Lincoln. And too long. But it is also beautiful and moving and insiting on telling us that good people can better the world. And the actors are superb!

I noticed – in a pivotal scene where the dramatic crescendo is about to top – that Tony Kushner (playwright) has written out the details of the roll call, listing the votes of the House as Lincoln’s 14th Ammendement to abolish slavery is being debated (and ultimately adopted to be ratified by law). I don’t know American history paticularly well (that is Vera’s department) but I am going to assume that the actual historical records have been used, so the name of the person and the vote cast is correct. One of the Republicans voting YES to abolish slavery (since it was the Republicans by and large who favored outlawing the practice of treating humans like property, and Democracts who wanted slavery to continue to exist) is a Mr. Willis from Ohio.

Mr. Willis from Ohio. Sound familiar?

(this is not from that episode. I just love the line. excellent writing… Gif not mine)

It reminded me of the West Wing episode, where a certain Mr. Willis from Ohio – a Black widower who has to go to Washington to vote on a bill to change the way the census is done, and bartlet’s merry men wants it passed, and the Republics oppose. Mr Willis is going to say NO and vote with the Republican party his wife had represented. That is, until he meets Toby and this dialogue happens:

TOBY
Mandy, would you read please from Article 1 Section 2?

GLADMAN
This is silly!

TOBY
Still, in all it is the owner’s manual and we should read what it has to say!

MANDY
[reading] ‘Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the
several
states, which may be included within this union according to their respective
numbers.
Which shall be determined by adding the whole number of persons including
those bound
to service for a term of years.’

SKINNER
Well you said it right there. It says which shall be determined by the whole
number
of persons. The whole number of persons! Not the end of an equation that some
statistician got off a computer. It says so right there!

TOBY
Actually that’s not what it says.

SKINNER
What do you mean?

TOBY
Mandy left out a few words. Didn’t she Mr. Willis?

WILLIS
Yes.

TOBY
Mr. Willis teaches 8th grade social studies, and Mr. Willis knows very well
what the
article says. It says which shall be determined by adding the whole number
of free
persons. And three fifths of all other persons. Three fifths of all other
persons.
They meant you Mr. Willis. Didn’t they?

WILLIS
Yes.

TOBY
Mr. Willis, you are asking to enact a law, which will limit the ability of
those
people who need to be counted the most, to be counted as people at all. And
they’re
only refuge is the argument that Article 1, Section 2 is not arcane.

 

and the episode ends:

 

JOSH
Come on, Toby. Sit down.

TOBY
I just want to watch this.

LEO
We won it 40 votes ago.

TOBY
I just want to hear this one.

ROLL CALL [on T.V.]
Mr. Widen. Mr. Widen of Pennsylvania votes yea… Mr. Wilder. Mr. Wilder of
South
Carolina votes yea… Mr. Willis. Mr. Willis of Ohio votes yea.

 

Coincidence? Of all the states, Sorkin made this character from Ohio. And of ALL the names he could have chosen, he chose one similar to a man who votes YEA at the roll call back in the day and made all citizens equal before the law.

A random thing of beauty.

 

Now, i’d love to see a film the size and scope and quality of Lincon deal with how actual democracy came to be and women got the right to vote….

 

 

 

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