Found this article by Jonathan Foreman, in relation to the Gangs of New York film: “Scorcese’s film portrays racist mass murderers as victims“, The Telegraph, January 15, 2003. Extract:
The film works so hard to make mid-19th-century Irish-American street gang members into politically correct modern heroes (and to fit them into Scorsese’s view of American history as one long ethnic rumble) that it radically distorts a great and terrible historical episode.
It treats the founding Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture of America with an ignorant contempt – where it doesn’t cleanse it from history altogether. Generally speaking, Hollywood sees that culture not as the root of treasured democratic freedoms, but as a fount of snobbery and dreary conformism. The paradoxical result of this Hollywood faux-Leftism is that the movie ends up casually glossing over the suffering of black Americans.
…the 1863 Draft Riots.
These began with assaults on police by Irish immigrants enraged by Lincoln’s conscription order on July 11, 1863. Very quickly, they turned into a monstrous pogrom, with a 50,000-strong mob murdering and mutilating every black they could find.
The Coloured Orphans’ Asylum was set on fire, followed by several black churches and the Anglican mission in Five Points. The city’s small German Jewish population was also attacked. Panicked blacks fled to the safety of British and French vessels at anchor in the East and Hudson rivers. Many drowned. Those who were caught were often tortured and castrated before they were killed.
In the film, you don’t see any of this. Instead, a voice-over quoting from telegraph reports briefly mentions some of the mob’s racist violence. What you do see is the suppression of the riot: blue-clad troops massacring crudely armed civilians of all ages and both sexes. The rioters stand almost impassive, and are cut down by gunfire and mortar shells lobbed from warships in the harbour (a bombardment wholly invented by the film-makers).
The film’s narrator claims – and it’s a flat-out lie – that the mob was a multi-ethnic uprising of the city’s poor, that Germans and Poles joined with the Irish immigrants against New York’s epicene patricians and an unjust conscription policy that allowed the wealthy to buy their way out of military service for $300. In fact the city’s 120,000 German immigrants, many of them Catholics, took no part in the riots, there were almost no Poles living in the city and the rioters were almost entirely Irish.
They were furious with the city’s blacks because the city’s free negroes were often skilled artisans, economically and socially a rung or two above the newly arrived Irish, many of whom didn’t speak English.
…There’s something bizarre about glorifying a subculture that fought to undermine Lincoln’s war to preserve the union and end slavery. Scorsese is treating racist mass murderers as heroes and victims. Yes, the Irish were cruelly abused in their adopted country. But it’s a strange modern fetish that assumes that victims cannot also be victimisers…
So much, didn’t know