Response Paper: Hollywood History

Another counter to the notion that Americans are disinterested in the past is the enduring appeal of historical movies and TV series. For example, one of last year’s biggest movies was Hidden Figures, about African American women who worked on the Space Race of the 1960s. It received a Best Picture nomination, as have recent historical films like Hacksaw RidgeSelmaBridge of SpiesThe Imitation Game, and 12 Years a Slave (the 2013 Academy Award winner). Two of the most popular drama series on cable TV are set in earlier time periods: The Americans (at the end of the Cold War) and Outlander (moving back and forth between 18th and 20th century Scotland).

Yet historians often have qualms about how such storytelling treats the past. For this week’s assignment, submit a 300-word response before noon on W 4/26 to the following questions:

How should we assess historical movies and TV series? Suggest two distinct criteria, illustrating them by discussing specific examples of movies or shows that either meet — or fail to meet — your standards.

I’ll put together two or three blog posts for Wednesday afternoon that share suggested criteria, then we’ll continue to discuss them here at the blog through Friday afternoon. Plan to share at least one blog comment by 5pm that day.

(I’ll also add my own two cents partway through the conversation, but I’ll try to stay out of it at first so that more of you feel free to weigh in.)

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