An exciting documentary series available on Apple TV+, The Lincoln’s Dilemma tells the story of Abraham Lincoln and the abolition of slavery from a whole new perspective that is rich, informative and exciting.
Available on Apple TV+, The Lincoln’s Dilemma is a four-part documentary centering on the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and the long road to the abolition of slavery in the United States. Bill Camp lends his voice to Abraham Lincoln and Leslie Odom Jr. lends his to Frederick Douglass to illustrate this crucial facet of American history.
AlloCiné spoke with producer Josh Tyrangiel and narrator Jeffrey Wright of this documentary series highlighting this critical and major period in the United States.
AlloCiné: How is this documentary different from other films about Lincoln and what new things do we learn about him?
Josh Tyrangiel: I think this documentary goes beyond the sacred image and the statues that we know so well of Abraham Lincoln. We always have the image of a noble and good man. We wanted to show that in reality, Lincoln is a very complex person. We also wanted to show that the process of the emancipation of slaves and then the abolition of slavery was not an easy process. All this is not necessarily highlighted in other documentaries on this iconic character in the history of the United States of America.
With new research we show, here, Lincoln from another angle, a new light. He was a politician of great intelligence, of great strength and he had a sense of humor little known to the general public. We also tried to highlight the other characters around Lincoln, the other actors in the abolition of slavery and the slaves themselves.
The slaves had a great understanding of the situation and of Lincoln’s delicate mission to help them gain freedom. We also learn how they managed to subtly put pressure on Lincoln to accelerate their emancipation. All this differs from what we have seen in other documentaries on this critical period of American history.
Jeffrey Wright: I think you’re going to learn a lot about Lincoln. This is the big difference with the other films that remain on the surface of the Lincoln mystery. I think the public will be surprised at how Lincoln’s political thinking evolved during his tenure. Too often we believe that Lincoln was this great emancipator, the one who freed the slaves. In fact, few people know that he was not an abolitionist to begin with.
He wasn’t even anti-slave, especially in the South where it seemed like slavery was a necessity for the union of these states. But he will gradually understand and denounce the brutality of slavery. He will therefore then proclaim the emancipation of the slaves. He will win the war and create a new union for the American nation. And with the help of Frederick Douglas as well as the support of more than 200,000 blacks who served in the army of the North, he will finally push for the abolition of slavery. He goes back a long way on his convictions. All this is presented in a unique and fresh way.
Tell us about the difficulties in finding the necessary elements to carry out this ambitious project.
Josh Tyrangiel: The major difficulty was to make our film visually interesting. There are only about a hundred images of Lincoln and all of them have already been shown in other documentaries about this legendary figure. We used new animation techniques to give “life” to these images and make them unique.
We used the services of the AKA animation studio, which had the heavy task of creating these visual sequences that you will discover while watching our documentary. Not only did they do this with the Lincoln story, but they also had to bring to life the hundreds of narratives from the adult slaves featured in this historical fresco.
The other challenge was to make this thrilling series like a real political thriller, especially since almost everyone thinks they know everything about Lincoln. We are at a time in our history where everyone is trying to re-write the history of the United States, especially with the extreme division that reigns between the different American political families. I hope this documentary can help reconcile people with their history, their country and with each other. Finally, the ultimate “challenge” was to create this series with a technical team that has never been in the same room, due to the Covid crisis. The logistics to carry out this undertaking was a real headache.
I think we can learn a lot from Abraham Lincoln because he is one of the few politicians who had the courage to change his point of view vis-à-vis slavery. It was not easy to free more than four million living slaves, at the time, in America. He had the courage to do so at the cost of war.
Why is the story of Lincoln and the abolition of slavery relevant?
Josh Tyrangiel: I think more than ever, people around the world are re-examining their history. In these times of political divisions, everyone is looking for THE truth. During the Civil War, America was deeply divided. Everyone wants to know more deeply why. In order to better understand why this division is still present. This is not specific to the American situation, look at what is happening at home in France with this presidential election.
The division is therefore always present, everywhere in the world. I think we can learn a lot from Abraham Lincoln because he is one of the few politicians who had the courage to change his point of view vis-à-vis slavery. It was not easy to free more than four million living slaves, at the time, in America. He had the courage to do so at the cost of war. We must ask ourselves today what needs to change in our societies and how far we are prepared to fight for these ideals.
Jeffrey Wright: It is clear that this series is topical given the deep division of our society in the United States. But we have made progress compared to Lincoln’s time. We need to better reexamine our history under a microscope in order to better understand the origins of today’s tensions which are, of course, in part, the continuity of tensions from our past, in the 19th century.
I hope this series sheds light on the path we need to follow to finally find a union within our society. I hope we will learn from the efforts led, hand in hand, by men like Lincoln and Frederick Douglas to finally improve human relations between the different groups of our country. We need to learn from the past to build our future.
Following this cinematic adventure, has something changed in you and what does Abraham Lincoln ultimately represent for you?
Josh Tyrangiel: Although I am a specialist in American history, I realized, while producing this series, that I did not know everything about the true identity of Abraham Lincoln. It opened my eyes to the complex history of my country. This adventure also gave me faith in our future. Even if we are still divided between us, I believe that we will manage to overcome our differences of opinion and learn to live together. It will take time, courage and a spirit of collaboration between us.
Jeffrey Wright: Clearly I have a much better understanding and appreciation of Lincoln after being on this show as a narrator. Part of me was very skeptical of Lincoln. But I came back. What inspired me the most by being part of this series was to discover the strength and the implication of Frédérick Douglas, born a slave, and who played a major role in the abolition of slavery with his irrefutable influence on Lincoln. Thanks to this I regained respect for Abraham Lincoln.