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Date: Wed, 13 Nov 2019 17:58:14 +0000
From: Mac Donnell Rare Books <[log in to unmask]>
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The black slave catcher in the film is a made-up character, and from 
what I've read of the film he's not a minor character. That's the 
problem with the film. I doubt many historians would object much to 
things like some made-up dialog, a wrong date, a costume or hair-style 
error, and the like. But making up a significant character is a problem. 
This does not mean the film can't be enjoyed for it's story or acting, 
but it renders the film historical junk.

In fact, I question whether there was any such thing as a black slave 
catcher--a free black who chased down escaped slaves--not just a slave 
who ratted out a fellow slave. I challenge anyone to find one in the 
historical record. Making up something that never existed and sticking 
it in the middle of such a film compounds the junkiness.

What if Spielberg had put unicorns into the street scenes of his Lincoln 
film, and made them an important part of the story?

Mac Donnell Rare Books
9307 Glenlake Drive
Austin TX 78730

You can browse our books at:

------ Original Message ------
From: "Hal Bush" <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: 11/13/2019 9:02:14 AM
Subject: Re: [External] Re: new film Harriet

>Kevin and all;
>  Thanks for the responses so far.  I saw the movie yesterday, it's great and often very moving.  I would definitely recommend it to everyone on the LIST.  It is great to have this version out there, and again, I cannot figure out why there have been so few quality theatrical releases like it?  Frederick Douglass makes a couple brief appearances (I don't think he even has a line!); and I wonder: how can it be at this late date that there has never been a great film about this great American?  Honestly I don't get it -- somebody should call Denzel or someone with clout to do it.  I'm happy to do a screenplay, if so commissioned!
>Anyway: go see Harriet.
>Kevin's remark is a common caveat, especially from historian-types like the readers of this LIST.  I get it, and often wonder in movies if a scene or incident narrated really happened, etc.  Think of Selma: wonderful film, but the King people would not allow the speeches to be used (???). So the words in all speeches in Selma are written to sound like King; but are not King's words.  Strange, but true...
>I've also heard some strong, alternative responses from film people and screenwriters, who feel that what they are doing in historical big screen film making is somewhat less constrained by the "facts on the ground" than purely fictional writing.  So I look at Harriet and I do wonder, are those black slave catchers based on real or imagined characters, or just types?  Are the purported visions and prophetic insights of Harriet (which occur at least 6-7 times, so her spiritual connections with God become in fact a major motif of the movie) based on real dreams & visions she had? You know, Joel chapter 2 - type stuff?  etc.
>PS: one of the gold standards for the historically detailed approach was Spielberg's Lincoln.  I heard a lecture once by the screenwriter Tony Kushner, about how painstaking Spielberg was about historical fact.  Actually, obsessive: even things like accents, or the ticking of Lincoln's pocket watch.  As a Lincoln aficianado, I actually once published a panel of Lincoln historians, in Cineaste magazine, talking about that movie's historical reality.  All of these great Lincoln scholars agreed on how accurate it was: people like Mark Noll, Allen Guelzo, and Michael Burlingame.
>Cineaste, “What Historians Think About Spielberg’s Lincoln,” 38.1, 13-19
>Dr. Hal Bush
>Professor of English &
>Director of the Undergraduate Program
>Saint Louis University
>[log in to unmask]
>author website:
>From: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]> on behalf of Mac Donnell Rare Books <[log in to unmask]>
>Sent: Saturday, November 9, 2019 10:16 AM
>To: [log in to unmask] <[log in to unmask]>
>Subject: [External] Re: new film Harriet
>Speaking only for myself, when a movie is based on a historical figure I
>do so wish the movie-makers would stick to the historical facts as much
>as possible. Hollywood is the home of myth, legend, and fantasy, and if
>a director now and then inserts a historical figure into a
>non-historical movie, well--no harm, no foul. But "enhancing" the drama
>by inserting a fictional character into the middle of the action in a
>film centered around a historical figure is misguided and insulting.
>Even if the drama in the story is somehow enhanced, it is still a
>disservice to historical truth. Most movie-goers will accept it as true,
>or at least as truthy. The Adventures of Mark Twain comes to mind. Jack
>Warner sent crews out to Hartford, Elmira, Hannibal, and other places,
>where they took hundreds of photos documenting Twain's homes,
>belongings, etc., but when it came time to film they pretty much ignored
>their own research and presented a highly fictionalized version of his
>life. For decades there was the fake version of The Mysterious Stranger
>infecting the healthy tissue of Twain's writings. Bad enough that
>historical evidence was rejected or ignored in favor of movie-maker
>fictions, but some editors could not resist fictionalizing Twain's
>fiction. Surely there is a ring in Hell for that.
>Well, thank goodness the pages of Twain studies are not contaminated
>with myths, legends, hoaxes, and non-historical blather!
>Mac Donnell Rare Books
>9307 Glenlake Drive
>Austin TX 78730
>Member: ABAA, ILAB, BSA
>You can browse our books at:
>------ Original Message ------
>From: "Hal Bush" <[log in to unmask]>
>To: [log in to unmask]
>Sent: 11/9/2019 8:58:22 AM
>Subject: new film Harriet
>>folks, I believe some of you will be interested:
>>Perhaps this is predictable (it's really, really hard to depict these histories to everyone's satisfaction at the current moment): but the controversy over the new film Harriet is for real (even though it has a full 99% audience-like rating on rotten tomatoes).
>>& ps: I have encouraged my own students to see it (they all read Uncle Tom's Cabin & Douglass' Narrative this semester):  I'd love hearing anyone's thoughts about the film, as either a teaching device or just an aesthetic/historical account.
>>Dr. Hal Bush
>>Professor of English &
>>Director of the Undergraduate Program
>>Saint Louis University
>>[log in to unmask]
>>author website:;!euKmGKuCglU!f6j9JLEBTADMMXqHhT-tZ-KhgadCZ5TXw87MPgVfsfSLUvdY5zOdZFkr0G3RlwQ$