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Series Review: Lincoln’s Dilemma

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In the opening of Lincoln’s Dilemma, directors Barak Goodman and Jacqueline Olive features some snippets of the January 6 2021 insurrection including snapshots of the confederate flag being brought into the Capitol building. This provocative beginning leads way into a very thoughtful look at Lincoln and his eventual support of emancipation. Read on for a review of Apple TV’s Lincoln’s Dilemma.

lincoln's dilemma review


“Lincoln’s Dilemma,” a four-part documentary series, is a fresh exploration of President Lincoln and the complex journey to end slavery. Narrated by Jeffery Wright and featuring the voices of Bill Camp as Abraham Lincoln and Leslie Odom, Jr. as Frederick Douglass, the series is a 21st century examination of a complicated man and the people and events that shaped his evolving stance on slavery.


Using carefully curated graphics and historical photos Lincoln’s Dilemma details Lincoln’s desire to have Black people be free but also his desire to keep the Union together no matter the cost.  And the cost is steep as episode 3 dives deep into the Civil War and the Black men who signed up to fight for the union.  The documentary is clear that Frederick Douglass’ influence plus the fact that Union Army was struggling helped sway Lincoln’s decision to have formerly enslaved men join the Union Army.  Initially, these men were used as laborers but history makes clear that without taking a firm stand against slavery, the Union was not going to win the war.  

Lincoln’s Dilemma doesn’t share a ton of new information on the much discussed president, but interviews with scholars and historians offer a fresh perspectives on Lincoln’s stance on slavery. One of the most powerful aspects of this documentary series is the accounts of slaves who took upon themself to resist by participating in small acts of resistance.  Episode 3 offers some beautifully animated reenactments of Robert Smalls’ act of rebellion and its influence on Lincoln’s position on slavery.

Jeffrey Wright’s quiet yet powerful voice provides narration the other actors give the caretaker’s of Lincolns family life.  The majority of the documentary relies on academic scholars providing insight into Lincoln’s tough decisions but I think this really adds to the background on how Lincoln’s desire to follow the Constitution went up against the pressure of abolitionists.  Also noted is the hypocrisy of Lincoln for believing that slavery was morally wrong in a city where the notorious Yellow House existed.  Yellow House was the place that escaped slaves were sent, where Black people who kept in chains so close to an area that preached for the abolition of slavery.  

The end of the series touches on Reconstruction and Jim Crow and reminds the viewers that equality is till a work in progress partially due to America’s whitewashing of history.  Lincoln’s Dilemma has thoughtful commentary and is a compelling series on Abraham Lincoln’s legacy.

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