If you are both a movie lover and a history lover like me, then you probably enjoy the occasional historical film or biographical flick. The only problem is most of these movies tell you that the film you are watching is simply based on true events, but who has time to read the small print? So if you were planning on writing your history paper based on a movie you say, here’s something to consider.
BTW: this is an article I made in 2016 for Odyssey but I really like it and I may do another, so I wanted to post it here.
1) Selma Lord Selma – Jonathan Daniel’s Death
The 1999 Disney movie depicts the civil rights events in Selma, Alabama in 1965. The Episcopal seminary student and civil rights activist, Jonathan Daniels is played by McKenzie Astin in the film. There is a scene in the film that shows Jonathan walking alone on the street trying to register people to vote, when an angry segregationist approaches him and shoots him, leaving him to die alone on the street with no witnesses. In reality Jonathan was standing outside with a group of protestors when a segregationist pointed a gun at the crowd. Jonathan jumped in front of a young girl by the name of, Ruby Sales, essentially sacrificing himself. While the movie does make it clear that Jonathan was shot down in broad daylight, it is even more shocking to know that he was murdered in front of witnesses while saving a life, and yet his killer still walked.
2) The Butler – Cecil Gaines
Most people who watched this movie ended up feeling very connected the the star, Cecil Gaines, played by Forrest Whittaker. We cried for him, rooted for him, and everything in between. However, it may be worth mentioning that Cecil Gaines is not an actual person. His character was loosely based on a man by the name of Eugene who served the White House for 34 years and became the head butler in 1981. While some of the movie resembled his real life, some of the most gripping moments were not true. His wife was not known to be an alcoholic, there is nothing to suggest his father was murdered, and he did not have a son die in Vietnam. Basically Eugene Allen’s life was more of a jumping off point for the creators of this film.
3)The Untouchables – Frank Nitti
In the film, ittalian American gangster, Frank Nitti is played by Billy Drago. Nitti is show to be responsible for the death of officer Jim Malone. That was the first falsehood. None of Elliot Ness’s “Untouchable” agents were ever murdered. Not to mention it would be impossible to kill a man that didn’t exist, but we’ll come back to that. There is a scene in which Elliot Ness is shown throwing Frank Nitti off of a roof; this never happened. Frank Nitti committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in 1943. Also, killer or not, government agents can’t just launch people off of rooftops and still make it home for dinner.
4) The Untouchables – ….The Untouchables
The team we came to know, love, and in some cases mourn, were made up of fictional characters. Jim Malone, Oscar Wallace, and George stone, played by Sean Connery, Charles Martin Smith, and Andy Garcia respectively, were all fictional characters. Also the movie shows the team as being four people while Elliot Ness’s biography says there were ten.
5) Boys Don’t Cry – Death Scene
In the 1997 movie, after Lotter and Nissen murder Brandon Teena(played by Hilary Swank), Brandon’s girlfriend Lana cradles his lifeless body making for an emotional scene. However, Tisdel was not present during or after the murder. Although another person was present; a young man by the name of Phillip Devine was also murdered in the house that night.
6) Bonnie & Clyde 1967 – Blanche Barrow
In the movie, Blanche Barrow is portrayed as a screaming, useless preacher’s daughter, who had no idea Frank was an escaped convict. Blanche negates all of this. Also Blanche and Bonnie were around the same age but Estelle Parsons (Blanche in the movie), was almost twenty years older than the film’s star, Faye Dunnaway.
7) Cadillac Records – Leonard Chess’s death
In the movie Leonard Chess is shown leaving his record studio after shutting down the business. Apparently stricken with grief he keels over in his car of a heart attack not even a block away from the studio. Really Leonard Chess died a few months later.
8) Guyana Tragedy – Jim Jones & Father Divine
James Earl Jones’s picture dawns some versions of the cover for the film, Guyana tragedy. This would lead you to believe he had a prominent role in the film, which he did not. Maybe the movie producers were trying to keep a theme going, as a fictional scene of a meeting between Rev. Jim Jones and Father Divine made it seem as though Father Divine played a larger role in Jones’ life. In reality Jones never met with Father Divine for counsel, instead he attempted to take over Divine’s ministry after Divine’s death claiming to be a reincarnated version of the spiritual leader.
9) Sweet Dreams – Patsy Cline’s death
The movie comes close to it’s end with a very climactic scene. Patsy Cline’s (played by Jessica Lange) airplane malfunctions and the last word to leave her lips is the name of her beloved, Charlie; right before the plane hits a mountain. While her romantic “last words” are nothing but pure speculation, the larger error is the fact that the plane did a nosedive in a forest, and not into a mountain. There were no mountains in the area where she crashed.
While the film’s actors did a good job with the script, apparently there were several errors from relationship details to the last moments of the singer’s life. Her husband Charlie, who is portrayed by Ed Harris in the film was quoted as saying, “”It’s a great film – if you like fiction”, for a 1985 People’s magazine article.
10) Mommie Dearest – …..No, not the wire hangers.
I know what you’re hoping, but sorry folks, Christina Crawford still maintains that the wire hanger incident indeed took place. Though that’s not to say the younger Ms. Crawford didn’t take issue with the film. Christina Crawford actually wrote a script for the film titled after her book, but the producers decided to go with their own. One of the falsehoods in the movie is the infamous rosebush scene. The film suggests that Joan went into a rage after being labeled “Box office poison” for MGM and took it out on her innocent flowers.
While Christina says Joan did take an axe to her flowers at one point or another, it wasn’t because of her MGM plummet. Seeming as though Joan was labeled poison in 1938, which was two years before she adopted baby Christina. So Christina wouldn’t have been able to fetch any axes. The film also neglects the fact that Christina Crawford and her younger brother Christopher were two of five children adopted by Joan. Joan also adopted another little boy and named him Christopher but he was soon reclaimed by his birth mother. Joan later adopted twin girls, Cindy and Cathy in 1947.
As for the truth of the subject matter all together, there is a longstanding debate. While Christina felt the movie was poorly done, it still doesn’t stray too far from the picture of abuse she paints in her book. Her brother Christopher supported her claims while her younger sisters Cindy and Cathy denied them. Several celebrities who knew the family -and several fans who didn’t- have both taken up post on both sides of the fence. The world may never know just how historical Mommie Dearest actually was.