Tag Archives: history

‘Lincoln,’ ‘Argo,’ and’ Zero Dark Thirty’: Reordering History

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☞ This post is a follow-up of my previous post. As we have seen, Zero Dark Thirty has had its fair share of presentation on this site with regard to its sacrifice of truthfulness for the sake of cinematic storytelling. But it is not the only recent film, of course, which has been accused of lack of truthfulness or authenticity, as we saw with Spielberg’s Lincoln (and as we’ll see again below). And neither are such accusations limited to so-called “non-fictional films,” as Tarantino’s Django Unchained demonstrates. The problems with Zero Dark Thirty are not easy to leave aside (as my next post will show). Here is a discussion in Indiewire’s blog last month, before the Oscars, on three of the main “non-fictional” contenders’ deviations from what actually occurred. Of the triumvirate, Argo has been relatively unscathed on this site, which I will be correcting shortly. The question is not whether non-fictional films should completely sacrifice themselves at the altar of truthfulness, but the limits of factual deviations, and the tipping point where these these untruths would start to affect our aesthetic judgment. It does seem to be the case that especially in the case Zero Dark Thirty, some reviewers and commentators have found it difficult to have a positive aesthetic assessment of the film, as a result of its blatant factual inaccuracies.

Tony Kushner

“For months, screenwriter Tony Kushner has been considered a shoo-in for an Oscar. But the award-winning playwright with impeccable credentials — Angels in America, his 1993 play about AIDS, won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony award as well as half a dozen awards from drama critics — tripped, if not tumbled, last week.

To make the fight in Congress to pass the 13th amendment and end slavery in America more dramatic in “Lincoln,” Kushner changed the votes of two Connecticut congressmen from Yea to Nay. A current Connecticut congressman who could not believe that his state, which fought on the Union side in the Civil War, had voted to uphold slavery asked the Congressional Research Service to investigate. The answer: Kushner had rewritten history. And, with Academy members still voting, Kushner’s Oscar is no longer a sure thing.

Audiences understand that historical movies usually take historical license. “Argo,” “Lincoln’s” competitor for both Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay, is based on a little known rescue of six American diplomats during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. But “Argo” is basically a thriller with chases and near misses and a fake movie crew, and nobody cares if characters were telescoped or dangers exaggerated.

“Zero Dark Thirty,” another best picture nominee that is also nominated for original screenplay, suggests that important information that led to the capture of Osama bin Laden was gained through torture. The United States political and military establishment vehemently disagrees. But, after the non-existent weapons of mass destruction that led to the Iraq war and the discovery that the CIA uses the simulated drowning called waterboarding, Americans take such government assurances with a whole tablespoon of salt. If “Zero Dark Thirty” lost Academy votes because of the controversy, it gained as much or more at the boxoffice from audiences who wanted to see what the fuss was about.”

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The question of authenticity again: Mandingo fighting in Django Unchained — was it true?

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Leonardo DiCaprio in the role of a slaveowner who deals in Mandingo fights.

☞ The question of authenticity in Django Unchained again. This time, it’s not to do with the profuse use of profanities or with the use of the N-word, but with Mandingo fighting. The controversy here reminds one of the debate on the authenticity of the Russian roulette sequences in Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978). Again, the question is how true should a movie be to history? Couldn’t a movie take liberties with facts in order to make the narrative more interesting?

“A key plot point of Quentin Tarantino’s western-blaxploitation-revenge movie is the supposed sport of Mandingo fighting, in which two (black) slaves fight in a bare-knuckle death match, for no reason other than the (white) slaveowners’ enjoyment. The search for the perfect Mandingo, or wrestler, is the vehicle Tarantino (who, of course, wrote and directed the film) builds the rest of his movie around. But a bevy of historians say it probably never happened.

One expert tells Slate (which says that “no slavery historian we spoke with had ever come across anything that closely resembled this human version of cockfighting”) that the very notion that Southerners would send off their slaves to die is logically flawed. Given the entire structure of slavery was based on economic expedience, it just doesn’t make much sense that a slaveowner would be willing to lose one of his strongest and healthiest men to death for sport.”

From HuffPost Entertainment: read more…