Hollywood History: Entertainment and Inspiration

How should we assess historical movies and TV series? Several of you emphasized that the starting point for such storytelling is necessarily entertainment (and commerce). Others argued that this kind of historical storytelling — despite inaccuracies — can help inspire viewers to learn more about history.

NELSON: …it is important to understand that the main job of a film crew is to make their respective project entertaining and make money. Often times this means that the crew must take certain “liberties” in order to make their film/series a better sell. One such case is the movie of Hacksaw Ridge; it shows Desmond Doss volunteering to go to war, but in reality Doss was drafted. The movie does this (I think) to better portray Doss as having a strong moral sense of duty to fight for his country. While the movie does take other “liberties” it still is enjoyable and entertaining, and that’s the point. The job of entertainers, in this case the film crew, is to entertain; often times they are not history buffs, and while they have to be well versed in the history they are filming, they cannot be expected to have every detail memorized or in some cases even want to include them. Their job is to sell and sometimes certain historical facts are not welcomed in the pockets of buyers, so they are excluded.

LAUREN: Hollywood is mainly concerned with two things: money and excellence. So, does the film have financial success, or the hope of it, and is it made well, are both crucial questions. If the film is not well made, meaning that it is not convincing in its production design, or just poorly visualized, audiences will not like it, and it will also fail in the sense that it probably will not make as much money.

However, for me, the question comes down to the creativity of the filmmaker and writers, and how much the craft is sacrificed for the art. The Academy Award-winning film The King’s Speech, about the stuttering King George VI, even if it has its inaccuracies, succeeds in humanizing a powerful historical figure, a man who was never supposed to and did not want be king. Beautifully shot, and cleverly written, its themes are the takeaways, supported by facts, balancing art and craft. This is the most common quality of successful period drama.

AIDAN: …when I think about Hollywood and other parts of popular culture portraying historical things, I am all for it, because that is how I learned to love history. It doesn’t matter that some parts are fictional or that there are some historical inaccuracies. When I look back on my own experience it was a work of fiction [Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, the source material for the film Gettysburg] that caused me to love history, and then it was this love of history that then caused me to read more studious well thought out books. If another work of fiction causes somebody else to fall in love with history and causes them to learn more about that event and what really happened then I think that is worth any historical inaccuracies that the work had. That being said if you are going to write historical fiction remind people that it is based on a true story, but is not an actual one.

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8 thoughts on “Hollywood History: Entertainment and Inspiration

  1. Nelson, and Lauren I think you guys did an excellent job articulating the purpose of movies: money and quality or excellence. If a film doesn’t have a market they it won’t be created, or at least done well. If there is a market like you said Lauren it will connect better with the audience. I believe part of that could even be the omission of some details that may cause the audience to not understand a more important theme in the production. Aiden I think if most people were honest who enjoy history it’s possible to trace our passions for history to some work of entertainment. For me, I loved the book Johnny Tremain and even more so loved reading texts on Greco-Roman mythology, which I would argue of ancient works of entertainment, and belief. Well done all of you I really enjoyed these excerpts.

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  2. I certainly agree with Nelson and Lauren’s points about Hollywood aiming for excellence and entertainment . Producers will often cut out historical details to help create a willing suspension of disbelief because that makes for a smoother story line. However, I also think that cutting things out is a double edged sword. The more things you cut out from a story, or the more things you change, a greater percentage will be distracted by the changes rather than focusing on the movie itself. I think some of the best producers of historical films are the ones who are good at finding the balance between cutting out enough to make the movie plot streamlined but not enough to distract the audience.

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  3. I agree strongly with Lauren and Nelson’s points on money and the market (entertainment) is a great part in creating an excellent historical movie. The many ways historical movies would have to on some occasions add more to a scene to add more of a thriller/suspense to advocate for the community that is going to watch the movie. No one wants to create a movie that does not sell and that does not bring in money. I do see a big part in creating a historically accurate movie that you do need the right market and the intention to gain money.

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  4. Aidan, I agree that Hollywood’s portrayal of history can be beneficial! While the inaccuracies in films can be sad, it at least gets the audience to think about and engage with the past. Recently I watched Hidden Figures and that prompted me to want to learn more on my own. However, I think that there could be an increase in an attempt to point out the differences between films and the real life events. This way film makers can continue to exercise their liberties and audiences can enjoy the story. Then a little later the audience can learn from other mediums what really happened.

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  5. I thought that Aidan brought up some great points about hollywood history. Although some parts may be fictional, it definitely does entertain the audience and leave them wanting to learn more about a certain event from the past. I often find myself researching about a historical event after watching a movie, just to be a little more informed. Hollywood tends to open up a conversation about the past a little more easily than compared to being in a classroom. Hollywood has its ways in engaging people who aren’t always interested in history. I don’t necessarily think that hollywood history is something where people should get all of their information from, but it is definitely something that gets the conversation going.

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  6. I agree with Lauren and Nelson that the main purpose of Hollywood is to make an entertaining film with the goal of earning awards and making money. I think that for this reason sometimes Hollywood may embellish the truth in order achieve this and make tho movie more popular. Although we should keep an eye out for historical inaccuracies and not take historical Hollywood movies at complete face value I never thought to much about accepting that Hollywood movies are going to contain some fiction and that we should just accept it and enjoy the movie for what it is like Aidan mentioned. If a movie is a way to peak someones interest and lead them to enjoying history more or dig deeper into a historical event then this can be good thing.

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  7. Lauren, I really liked what you had to say about humanizing the characters. Often overlooked is the fact that these stories are based on real people, just like us. Humanizing them by incorporating specific traits increases the level of entertainment and can add historical accuracy. You wrote about how this depends largely on the creativity of the filmmaker and writers which is very true. I think that aspect is directly put upon their shoulders because oftentimes it is the little details that they have the decision to include or not. In my opinion, when done correctly, humanizing the characters adds an incredible amount of value to the production. In regards to Aiden’s writing, I have a similar experience with how my love for history was crafted. Even if the information was not 100% correct I learned to be fascinated with events of the past. The stories were extremely unique so adding the fact that they were based off true events made me look at the world with a new perspective. All in all, I am grateful for the role that Hollywood has played in developing my love for history because they certainly provide an amazing aspect to reconstructing the past.

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  8. I agree with Nelson, and I really liked his point on the liberties that happen when Hollywood takes on a historical project. I believe that the number one result like Lauren talked about is money, and to make the most money, the film or TV show must be entertaining. To do this, Hollywood has to take liberties, and in the end, people who see the film will take away the big picture message that is trying to be said.

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