Spielberg's Lincoln: gayful and Goodwinless?

The movie project based on rights to Doris K. Goodwin's Team of Rivals is inching forward.

According to this March report in Variety, a new Indiana Jones film was to begin shooting in June and director Steven Spielberg (right) intended to start shooting the Lincoln pic after Jones wrapped. If this is true, the Lincoln pic is behind schedule with the first draft of the script not yet delivered.

For a screenwriter, Spielberg (or the studio) tapped Tony Kushner (right), writer of the seven-hour Broadway play "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes." The Jewish Journal says, "all of Kushner's work is as defined by his Judaism as by his gay identity." Kushner says (in the same piece),

I think everyone assumed I was doing the film because of the gay angle, that it was going to be the 'gay Abraham Lincoln.' But I have to say that while I think the Tripp book is very interesting, I don't think there's enough evidence one way or the other to make a definitive statement about Lincoln's sexuality.
That comment was published on October 26. It sounds like he's closed the door on "gay Abe." But he hasn't because before Oct. 7, he had told the Louisville Courier-Journal, in answer to a question about a Lincolnian love affair with Joshua Speed,

I would rather not discuss that right now. I will feel freer to talk about the specifics when the movie is on the way out. I don't think Steven would want me to talk about it. It's too much in an early phase.
Don't know about you, but that goes into my Aha! file. Kushner continued,

All I can say is that I have read the Tripp book and I'm a very good friend of Larry's, and I have read all of that discussion with great interest. I think everybody assumes that because I'm gay and I'm writing it that I am going to write a film about Lincoln being gay. Let them assume whatever they would like to assume -- and buy a ticket.
Let them - you see, I am fully authorized to suspect a gay Abe angle here. ("Larry," by the way, refers to a screewriter who advocates the gay Lincoln meme.)

Another interesting comment was Kushner saying to the Jewish Journal "The big problem with the subject is that it's so vast," in response to the interviewer saying, "More books have been written on Lincoln than perhaps any other person except Jesus Christ -- it must be a daunting project."

Neither the question nor the answer makes sense sense if Kushner has been tasked with adapting Goodwin's Team of Rivals to a screenplay. There should be no vastness there, just one source book. There should be no literature survey, and Goodwin should be prominently mentioned. She's not. When the Courier-Journal mentions her, Kushner breezes right by the reference. The word "Goodwin" never escapes his lips.

My sense is that this playwright - The Jewish Journal actually asks him why someone of his stature stoops to work with Spielberg on a film script - this playwright is not working off of Team of Rivals, he's developing his own material. (If the matter of writing an original screenplay is a step down for Tony Kushner, then adapting a piece of cash-cow hackwork should be more embarassing still.) Note also that Goodwin never cracked the gay door in her tome. An adaptation of her work would have taken "gay" off the table and provided Kushner with a pat answer - it's not in the book and I'm adapting her book.

Remember the controversy when Goodwin announced she was writing a Lincoln book? Spielberg had already bought the rights when she was just getting started and she had to stamp out rumors that she was going to write the first gay Lincoln biography. We had Spielberg in the equation, we had Goodwin in it (who opposes the gay Lincoln meme) and that produced a gay Lincoln rumor. Interesting math problem: derive the rumor. Now we have a gay icon collaborating on a script with Spielberg with Goodwin pushed well off to the sidelines. And the gay questions surface again.

Call me suspicious. And expect DKG to reap a weak film credit like, inspired by a bestselling nonfiction work by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Meanwhile, Kushner's involvement complements another recent public decision to star Sally Field as Mary Lincoln. Outside of Hollywood, the decision is laughable but like Kushner, to the industry, Field is an award-winning, box office heavyweight; she and Kushner could reasonably be expected to be Oscar contenders. Spielberg is lining up the heavy artillery.

But Spielberg's camapign may have been fatally delayed. Kushner told the Courier-Journal last month that he's not sure the production can premier before Lincoln's birthday in February '09. It seemed a tight schedule to him. If the screenwriters' strike comes, the already tight schedule will explode. There will be no Lincoln film during the Bicentennial, neither gayful nor gayless.