Historical Accuracy

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How important is historical accuracy in films?

History has given us many amazing and unbelievable stories which have inevitably been immortalised in cinema for the better or for the worst. Due to the enormous exposure that mainstream cinema can have, many historical inaccuracies have become embedded in the popular public’s consciousness. Gladiator (2000) being just one contention. Should films be required to be entirely historically accurate to teach as well as entertain, or is this really the domain where artistic license is, and should be, paramount? Because after all, films are fundamentally works of art.

  • I think this is an interesting and timely topic--and certainly one I want to read more about. My only suggestion is that it seems, at the end of the topic, that you are biased towards films being allowed to take creative liberties ("after all, films are fundamentally works of art"). I'm not sure if you meant to include your opinion in there or not or if you wanted to remain subjective. – rachelwitzig 5 years ago
  • So sorry--I meant "objective" and not "subjective" at the end of the last comment. – rachelwitzig 5 years ago
  • Yes I do see what you mean. I suppose I more included it as part of the counter argument. Fundamentally I believe films should be as accurate as possible but on the other hand, film is an art form and doesn't have to be strictly educational. – Thomas 5 years ago
  • Great topic! I would also consider the effects of marketing/reception. The public in general has become more and more attentive and vocal about historical inaccuracies and depending on the reception (or backlash) during the marketing campaign and initial release, it can spell success or failure for those movies. – kpfong83 5 years ago
  • I am certainly intrigued to see where you go with this topic. If you haven't already thought of it, I hope you consider some discussion of Quentin Tarantino's recent films like Inglorious Basterds and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. While these movies both deal with real world events and people who actually exist/existed, historical accuracy is largely thrown out the window on purpose in favor of creating a sort of alternate Tarantino universe. This sort of thing is quite a bit different from something like Gladiator in that, with a film like Gladiator, which also draws from history and contains representations of historical figures, I think that there's more of an intention to have the audience perceive that there's some truth in the story, even if many of the facts were changed for the story. In Tarantino's case though, I think he might agree that the point of his blatantly inaccurate historical pieces are fundamentally to produce works of art meant to entertain. Because these are re-imagined histories, and marketed as such, it seems permissible. However, he is still portraying people on screen who are actual people, and likely doing so without consent of those who might be able to give it, which makes it kind of a complicated issue. Personally, I appreciate his movies as works of art, but I'm not entirely sure about how I feel about some of the issues that arise from his choices. Either way, it might be a possible topic of interest to explore in this piece. – bradleyhewittk 5 years ago
  • While, I, as the viewer struggle with screaming at the screen over historical inaccuracy when watching a film, primarily due to my fact-checking nature, I think that it is acceptable to bend the facts a bit as long as there is a disclosure that the film is "based on a true story". I also think artistic license takes priority over historical accuracy. Given that history is long and often has large portions that are irrelevant to the meat of the story, it is necessary to keep the story interesting and compelling and that is the job of the artist, even if he/she has to manipulate the facts. In the end, a film is just a story. And history is essentially the same. The idea that what we know as our history is actually accurate is improbable. – govalen29 5 years ago