Robert Redford’s courtroom drama The Conspirator castigates the 1865 trial by a military tribunal of Confederate partisan Mary Surratt for her murky role in John Wilkes Booth’s plot to murder Abraham Lincoln. Redford obviously intends his movie as a parable denouncing George W. Bush’s employment of military tribunals instead of jury trials for Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
... Still, The Conspirator is of considerable interest, both for its cast’s quality and because the 74-year-old Redford seems to have no idea how unfashionable his view of post-Civil War history has become since he arrived on the New York stage in the late 1950s. The Conspirator reflects the anti-Republican prejudice endemic in history textbooks when Redford was in school. To imply that 21st-century Republicans are deluded by Islamophobia, Redford argues that 1865’s Republicans were crazed by Confederophobia. ...
Everyone says history is written by the victors, but it’s actually written by the historiographers. For the first century after 1865, white Southerners wrote most Civil War histories and almost all the accounts of the subsequent Reconstruction. Their anger over the postwar military occupation was transmitted in two vastly popular movies: 1915’s The Birth of a Nation and 1939’s Gone with the Wind. After FDR’s 1932 victory, white Southerners made up a large fraction of the New Deal coalition. Hence, the liberal Democrats who wrote most mid-century history books pandered to the South’s view of Reconstruction as a grave injustice.
Only with the rise of blacks in the late 1960s did Reconstruction come under scrutiny. Redford’s movie, set entirely in Washington, DC in 1865, features only one line spoken by an African-American.