Hollywood has a huge influence on our we act and how we think. There it’s reasonable to believe that as we take cues from films, they should represent us – especially when they deal with history. However several of this year’s Oscar contenders have been accused of historical misrepresentation. Hollywood screenwriters, producers and directors have always believed that story, plot and character should come first before facts but what effect does that have on the average filmgoer?
When Green Book became an Oscar contender despite its controversy, historians and film buffs started an outcry. won top prize at the Toronto film festival in September, it became an instant Oscar front runner.
Green Book tells the story of African American pianist Donald Shirley and his Italian American driver Tony Vallelonga as they undertake a tour of the Deep South in 1962. Along the way, Shirley is refused service in stores, excluded from restaurants and physically assaulted. At the start, Vallelonga is hostile towards Shirley and black people in general. When he gets to know Shirley, though the film his attitude changes as he sees Shirley as a regular guy not deserving of prejudice.
Green Book is a mainstream audience that is designed to be a hit with Oscar board members. Shirley’s real-life family have reacted with anger, asserting that this film was basically a fabrication and in reality there was no close friendship between the pair. The family heavily criticism the filmmakers for not consulting them.
While the film has archetype characters who eventually see the errors of their ways in the deep south during the civil rights movements, it is hard to blame the filmmakers. It is difficult to capture history accurately. For one, it is always so much more complicated than what can be communicated in a two-hour time frame.
The only historical Oscar contenders this year that have not prompted widespread charges of inaccuracy it seems are Roma and Cold War. Both are semi-autobiographical. Roma is about a worker’s journey set against both political and domestic turmoil in Mexico during the 70s. Cold war is a historical drama directed by Pawel Pawlikowski who co-wrote it with Janusz Glowacki and is set in Poland and France during (yes you guessed it) the Cold War from the end of World War II to the 60s. The story is about a musical director who discovers a young singer and falls in love with her.
Both Mary and Queen of Scotts and BlacKkKlansman directed by Spike Lee has faced its fair share of criticism for being inaccurate, trying to force complex history into a linear storyline.
Even Bohemian Rhapsody – which one would think would be fairly straightforward – has faced it criticism for misrepresentation of Freddie Mercury and Queen. While one might not think that the life of Freddie Mercury is such a big deal it does have bigger implications on how we perceive history and facts in general. For one, it gives people – not just filmmakers – to play fast and loose with reality. “Alternative facts” become the norm rather than the acceptation.
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