Ta-Nehisi isn’t interested in seeing The Conspirator. But I think I might be:
I’m torn on this. I think it’s worth asking whether, if the only way to get a movie made about the serious problems of military trials of civilians was to make a movie about an undeniably guilty Confederate traitor and to cast her as a victim, whether it’s worth making said movie at all. I don’t really have an answer, and I think it may be impossible for me to have an answer without seeing the movie and seeing how it comes down on the question of Mary Surratt’s guilt. If the movie makes a clear case that she was guilty and the cause for which she thought she was fighting evil, but also insists that the trial that lead to her hanging was wrong, then I think it may turn out to be worth it. But if the movie’s a piece of Confederate apologia, then Ta-Nehisi may be right.
But I do think that military trials are going to something that we have to find a way to deal with, and deal with directly, in our mass entertainment. We’ve seen movies about rendition, about torture. But we haven’t seen, in our mass culture, what a military trial looks like. We’re so attached to our cultural understanding of what courtrooms look like, and what it looks like to see justice and injustice done there. Beyond the standard petty and profound miscarriages and perversions of justice that are done in our courts regularly, a defendant who is brought to court in goggles and earmuffs is a huge challenge to that image and those narrative and dramatic conventions. But maybe we could use that sort of upset, even if comes in a historical form, if it will let us put our courts on screen with greater nuance and understanding.