People need to remember that true stories out of Hollywood are still fiction
In the past year, Hollywood has gifted us with an abundance of historical dramas, most of which were up for academy awards. Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, Django Unchained and best picture winner Argo all received great reviews and did well at the box office, but none should be considered historically accurate.
Hollywood has always had a reputation of changing stories for entertainment value. Altering story-lines taken from successful novels, comic books and plays have long been apart of what makes Hollywood movies successful. Historical pieces are unfortunately no exception, even when the film is billed as being true.
Tarantino’s Django Unchained used slavery as a backdrop to a fictional story. Driven by a revenge based plot, he presented us with a brutal, gruesome look at slavery just years before the civil war. Not unlike his previous film, Tarantino could be found guilty of a little revisionist history, but context aside it was a pure fictional story.
What separates the other best picture nominees from Django is that Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln and Argo were all promoted as true stories. Zero Dark Thirty was billed as “the story of history’s greatest manhunt”, Argo was “the declassified true story” and Lincoln didn’t need a catch phrase (who needs a catch phrase when you have Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis?)
The declassified true story of Argo tells the tale of the daring rescue of six U.S. diplomats during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. The film had canceled flight reservations, suspicious Iranian officials, and of course it contained a climactic chase scene on the tarmac just as the plane took off. Great entertainment and suspense, too bad none of it actually happened.
Another fact that I found missing was summed up well by former President Jimmy Carter who said “Ninety per cent of the contributions to the ideas and consummation of the plan was Canadian, and the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA.” Yeah, I know Americans don’t want to see a movie about Canadians, perhaps that’s why they barely notice we’re up here.
Moving on, Zero Dark Thirty is about the decade long hunt for terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden. The film leads people to believe the information gathered from the water-boarding of captured terrorists is the reason the CIA was able find Bin Laden. Most of the real life story remains classified material including the movie’s main character. The concern I have here are those who will now think torture gets positive results, because hey, it was in a “true story” movie. I can just see myself arguing about torture with some conservative next year and the story of the movie will be used as a reason to support it.
Lincoln, The latest masterpiece of Mr. Spielberg depicts the great emancipator in the last four months of his life as he’s trying to pass the 13th amendment which outlawed slavery. Most of the beef I’ve read with regards to the film’s accuracy revolves around the amendment vote itself. The film has two Connecticut congressmen voting against it, which didn’t happen.
For me, I found the omission of abolitionist Frederick Douglass to be just plain insulting. Back in the 19th century, no one did more for the African American cause than Douglass, but for some reason Spielberg didn’t find him worthy of mention.
None of these films pretend to be documentaries; after all, documentaries never get nominated for best picture. While they are all worth watching and are arguably worthy of an Oscar nod, it begs the question as to how much we are willing to tolerate when it comes to the historical accuracy in the movies we watch.
When people watch movies based on real life events, those who have not read up on the subject prior to viewing can’t know fact from fiction. When people can’t tell what’s true or false, they are predisposed to believe it all and the problem lies therein.
If those in Hollywood feel the need to add to history or alter it entirely, they should at least put a stop to presenting their films as true stories or even based upon them. Leave the true stories to documentaries or be sure to be true to history.