History vs. Hollywood: Who Gets It Right (and does anybody really care?)
These Sources Can Help You Teach Film
Frank W. Baker,  copyright 2014


If I was teaching in a classroom, I think I might engage my students with this question: 'what was true, and what was not, in that movie you saw last weekend'? They could be assigned a recent film, or one you use in the classroom, and be tasked with researching how the filmmakers stayed faithful to, or swayed from, the facts. There's no shortage of fact-checkers it seems: the net is full of detectives out there identifying distortions and other errors-of-fact.

In this excerpt, from a Hollywood Reporter story about these docu-dramas, the author writes:
"But today we live in the age of Google, when a quick fact-check is just an Internet search away. And so movies -- especially movies running the gantlet of the Oscar-vetting process -- can't get away as easily with playing fast and loose with the truth."

New York Times film critic A.O. Scott writes:
"Keep in mind artists of all kinds are supposed to be creative; it's the job of writers, directors, and actors to invent false realities. It's unfair to blame filmmakers if the audience sometimes confuses the real world with movie representations."

And consider this from TIME magazine's writers: "
Almost any novel's plot must be compressed into a black hole of incident and image. Then there's the challenge any movie faces of putting thoughts into words, emotions into gestures, descriptions into actions. And always the adapters must worry not just about satisfying those persnickety readers but also about pleasing the audience ignorant of the book."

In ELA Reading Literature, the Common Core teaching standard "Integration of Knowledge and Ideas" (for eighth grade) says:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.7 Analyze the extent to which a filmed or live production of a story or drama stays faithful to or departs from the text or script, evaluating the choices made by the director or actors.

Many educators already use film adaptations, including having their students "read the novel/watch the film" and do a compare-and-contrast.

With the film award season in full swing, and knowing students love movies, I offer the following sources, culled from the news (and the web) that might be useful in helping teach that standard.

Many students may have seen one or more of the current crop of docu-dramas (e.g.  'Lone Survivor,' 'Saving Mr. Banks,' '12 Years A Slave,' 'Captain Phillips,' 'Wolf of Wall Street,' 'Philomena,' and 'Mandela' just to name a few). Or they may be familiar with some of those movies from last year: 'Lincoln,' 'Argo,' 'Zero Dark Thirty,' or 'Hitchcock'. But how many will have read the books on which these films have been adapted?

No doubt, if they HAVE read the book (or are familiar with the facts of an historical event), then they tend to be more knowledgeable about and can speak to the "differences" as well as "what was omitted from the film."  Invariably there will be the debate about which was better: the book or the movie?

To assist in this endeavor, I offer, below several recent articles that your students could access and read as part of meeting standard RL8.7


Fact checking the movies: Announcing Truth Teller for Trailers

Does Anybody Care if Movies Are Historically Accurate? (Forward)

Con Man: 'American Hustle' Wrong, Jennifer Lawrence Too Hot  (ABC News)
 

How Accurate Is The Monuments Men? (Slate)


Fact Checking Lone Survivor (Salon)

The True Story of 12 Years A Slave (TIME magazine) /  The Forgotten History Behind 12 Years A Slave

The Wolf of Wall Street: The True Story (TIME magazine)

Captain Phillips: Movie Vs True Story (History vs Hollywood)

The Real Mandela vs. The Movie Version (Salon)

Searching for Philomena's Real Son (NYT)

True or False: Fact Checking Films is Futile (The Hollywood Reporter)
(available via EBSCO)

Just How True Are Hollywood's 'True Stories'? 

Films Inspired by True Events Walk A Tricky Line (LA Times)

Hollywood vs. history: a lot of (last) year's hit movies have tackled real-life events. Two New York Times film critics consider how to watch a 'historical' movie (NYT UPFRONT)

Although not based on historical events, 'Gravity' also garnered a good deal of criticism:

Here's what 'Gravity' gets right and wrong about space

Text, lies and celluoid (This Magazine)