How Much Do We Really Care about Accuracy in Films?

In the wake of its release, Hugh Jackman’s "The Greatest Showman" has received a handful of negative reviews due to its inaccurate portrayal of P.T. Barnum. Several negative reviews argue that the film leaves out P.T. Barnum’s true nature and behavior, such as his exploitation of his circus “freaks” and the fact that he and/or his circus abused the animals in the show. Moviegoers have given the film poor reviews simply because they dislike P.T. Barnum and the fact that the film did not portray him as the person he apparently was—not because they dislike the movie.

This then begs the question: How much should we care about accuracy in films? Should we take the film for what it is, a movie intent on promoting whimsy, family fun, great music, amazing dance sequences, and general themes of inclusion and self-love? Or should we care that the film did not show the true, nitty-gritty details of a man who was not as “great” as the film cracks him up to be?

The writer does not have to focus on "The Greatest Showman," of course. S/he can focus on any films that do not accurately portray the person that they are portraying. In doing so, assess the importance of accuracy, its effect on us and our opinions, and perhaps how the alternative truth(s) might affect us and our opinions. What do we gain and what do we lose by receiving an inaccurate portrayal of a person that our culture idolizes and celebrates?

  • It is apparent that the general public is either not willing to accept, or just simply does not consider, that an adaptation of a narrative or story from one art form to another, will never be a carbon-copy of the original, and will have its own distinctions based on the two art forms. However, more subjectively, there should be an onus on movie studios, or whatever business is adapting an original work, to emphasize that their interpretation of the narrative is different from the original, either through their own artistic vision, or lack of depth of the medium (e.g. novels as movies). An example of this would be how King Arthur (2004) blatantly acknowledged that its story diverged from the traditional Arthurian legend into a Roman empire-inspired piece. Regarding the review of such adapted movies, there will of course be parallels drawn to the source material, especially if the adaptation is marketed as having drawn inspiration from such. However, it is also important to critique films for their own characteristics, such as cinematography and acting, as they can have a significant impact on how the narrative is told. An example of these two lenses would be how Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight was critiqued in accordance to its source material, DC's A Killing Joke. – Gliese436B 5 years ago
  • What I see as central to this topic is the ethical responsibility of art. If we say artists (in this case, filmmakers) have an ethical responsibility, then they should care about accuracy and not sugar coating someone's character for the sake of a warm and fuzzy resolution or better entertainment. However, if creative license is truly creative license, then we cannot critique artists for bending reality. This could even go into the idea of whitewashing--"should we care," or I think, more analytically, do filmmakers have an ethical responsibility to hire actors that accurately represent the ethnicity of the characters portrayed (whether fictional or not)? So when we talk about "accuracy" this is a large term, especially in the context presented here, because it isn't just about making a few small changes (like in a Harry Potter type film), but really about the ethical responsibility to the accuracy of a story and whether or not that choice is erasing difference that is not often represented on screen. – shoberry 5 years ago
  • I'd say those high standards would be warranted for a documentary claiming to be non-fiction, but not a movie telling a story with the purpose of celebrating the good things a person did, or at least the interesting things. The Social Network, Hamilton, and Saving Mr. Banks all may have stretched the truth, but they certainly made the points they were trying to make. On that note, The Social Network was partially about pulling down a celebrated icon. Is this topic applicable to the inverse concept? – noahspud 5 years ago

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