At some point, I hope that Hollywood's historical irresponsibility bites it in the ass. I hope that good citizens like you will stop going to films that are "based on a true story" or, even worse, that pretend, without clarification, to create a visual representation of historical fact.
Put bluntly, if Schindler's List, Argo, The Blind Side, Lincoln, and American Sniper play with the facts, they not only don't deserve Best Picture consideration, their participants should also not be eligible for awards. What's the reasoning: "It was a beautifully-rendered, visually stunning false recreation?"
Concerning a true event, it either happened or it didn't. And if it didn't happen, it has no business being in a movie. Real life does not exist to create dramatic fodder for creative filmmakers. Of course, you know that the impetus for this discussion is Selma. Now, I never had any interest in seeing the movie in the first place, having seen the trailer. It struck me as a typical biopic, artificial and cheesy. But now that the film is garnering praise and buzz, I side with those historians who are outraged that the fulcrum of the film is an inaccurate (as in, flat out historically wrong) portrayal of LBJ's role in the Civil Rights Movement.
If a movie is to be nothing but entertainment, I understand that. If that entertainment is to be based on a false historical record, I find that absolutely unethical. One of the most moving movie experiences I ever had was The Killing Fields. Imagine how, when I read The Death And Life Of Dith Pran, I felt violated. Only the outlines of the story were true. The climactic scenes in the movie that supposedly happened to real people in real situations never happened at all.
I don't know about you, but I find real life endlessly fascinating. My friends and I, in work or social situations, can parse the small statement, gesture, or nuance into the highest drama. A comment or a rumor can fuel life for days. An ethical violation of the absolute smallest caliber can tell us everything we need to know about a person.
At the same time, I love fiction. I subscribe to the notion that great fiction can be more real than actual truth. A movie like Apocalypse Now proves this every time I watch it. There may never have been a surf-obsessed officer like Robert Duvall's character in that entire war, but he and his actions feel entirely true as he tries and succeeds in making a large-scale war an opportunity to serve his personal needs. He tells me about that war as much as real footage. In fact, when I see real footage, I think, 'This looks just like Apocalypse Now.'
Apocalypse Now has never pretended to be a real rendering of events, so there is no confusion. It just carries that kind of authority.
But let's acknowledge, even if you don't know me, that I'm a fairly sophisticated viewer of film. But what about our countrymen? It is not practical to assume that the same is true. You tell most of our American citizens that what they are about to see is a historical record, or worse, you don't tell them that it isn't, and they are going to think that they are viewing historical fact. Maybe that shouldn't be so, but it is so.
And that isn't to say that I can't be and haven't been fooled. Certainly I have. The people behind the cameras during my lifetime have become increasingly skilled, and I have been tricked into accepting both products and political perspectives. Maybe if I worked a little harder...
Which is why it is essential that a movie about something that supposedly really happened has a responsibility to do its best to convey the events as they happened. People go to movies for a complex set of reasons. If you go, for example, to see Selma on this 2015 Martin Luther King birthday, you are most likely not going just to be "entertained." You want a reminder or a clarification of what actually happened. And a misrepresentation of that offends not only President Johnson's legacy, but also Dr. King's.
Certainly there have been times in our history when people needed heroes who were larger than life. But one of the messages on Martin Luther King's birthday is that an ordinary man could find it within himself to lead a movement that would change a country and would do so with "grit, spit, and Mother wit," and would do it with all of his human failings and with support from unlikely places. The story is compelling the way it happened. It needs no alteration of the facts.