Defamation as Artistic License in Film
March 16, 2019 1:06 PM   Subscribe

Howdy MeFites! I’ve recently become interested in the use of defamation of real, historic figures depicted in motion pictures as a form of “artistic license”. I’d very much appreciate recommendations of other examples.

To elaborate: I’m not interested in what is clearly a political hit job in a documentary by a partisan (e.g., D’Souza’s Hillary’s America).

Rather, I’m looking for examples of historic figures whose actions or motives — and thus reputations — were defamed by blatantly altering historical events in an effort to make a film more interesting, as a form of artistic license. Two examples: the depiction of Salieri in Amadeus, and the depiction of Private Henry Hook in Zulu. Many thanks in advance!
posted by darkstar to Media & Arts (17 answers total)

From Mic, Feb 15 2013, regarding the movie "Lincoln":

Congressman Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) wrote an official letter to Steven Spielberg expressing how insulted he was that the film portrayed two Connecticut representatives voting Nay on the amendment to abolish slavery.

Courtney pulled up the official congressional record to point out that all four members of Connecticut's delegation voted in favor of the amendment. Screenwriter Tony Kushner has since shot back, trying to remind the Congressman that it is just a movie.
posted by elf27 at 1:18 PM on March 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

In Sorkin's The Social Network, Zuckerberg creates Facebook mostly to get a girl. In real life, he's been with the same woman since before Facebook.
posted by General Malaise at 1:24 PM on March 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

Are TV serials admissible? If so, how about the depiction of Winston Churchill in Peaky Blinders, ready to stoop to arms-running and assassination in his war on Irish republicans?
posted by MinPin at 1:25 PM on March 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Check the biopic Basquiat. The filmmaker knew Basquiat and put himself rather sympathetically into the movie under a pseudonym and some claim he portrayed other figures from that period in a negative light.

This is a book and not a movie, but there is an antagonist character in Jeffery Eugenides The Marriage Plot that many (including me) believe is based on David Foster Wallace, although Eugenides denies this.
posted by muddgirl at 1:48 PM on March 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

Thank you, all!

I think that TVTropes link gives me well more than I’d hoped for, so I’ll go ahead and Mark this question answered/resolved. :)
posted by darkstar at 1:56 PM on March 16, 2019

In order to add drama, "The Imitation Game" made a villain and a fool out of Commander Alastair Denniston, who actually was the person who hired Turing, was a legend in codebreaking himself, and was always a supporter of Turing and his work.
posted by w0mbat at 1:57 PM on March 16, 2019 [5 favorites]

"The Imitation Game" also changed Alan Turing from a gay war hero into a straight traitor.
posted by monotreme at 5:40 PM on March 16, 2019

The Deadwood series seemed to portray George Hearst as a bit loopy and violent.
posted by buzzman at 6:04 PM on March 16, 2019

"The Imitation Game" also changed Alan Turing from a gay war hero into a straight traitor.

What? No it didn't. It only showed a platonic friendship with a woman, and his being gay was a major part of the plot. There was a made-up bit where he was falsely suspected of being a soviet spy after the war, but not found to be one.
When the writer won the Oscar for this movie his whole speech was about Turing being gay and mistreated.

Really the inaccuracies of that film are very very many though. It makes Turing out to have severe social anxiety and be unpopular, when he was actually a charming brilliant gay man. Turing was a genius and still is a giant in many fields but the movie credits him with many accomplishments of others. Keira Knightley plays a mathematician but fails to pronouce "Euler" properly.
posted by w0mbat at 7:19 PM on March 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

Wolf Hall certainly does a number on Thomas More, though of course much of it is a matter of interpretation.
posted by praemunire at 7:39 PM on March 16, 2019

Yeah, I feel like Wolf Hall is more "here's how things looked from Cromwell's perspective."
posted by Chrysostom at 9:13 PM on March 16, 2019

Bohemian Rhapsody
posted by Violet Hour at 11:10 PM on March 16, 2019

Olympic runner Eric Liddell's younger sister Jennie, in Chariots of Fire. In real life she was just a child. The movie has her as a religious fanatic who wants her brother to put his track and field career on hold for Christ!
posted by johngoren at 12:23 AM on March 17, 2019

"The Imitation Game" also changed Alan Turing from a gay war hero into a straight traitor

Enigma is the film that makes the character based on Turing straight.
posted by plonkee at 1:52 AM on March 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Idi Amin in Amin: The Rise and Fall. Compare that depiction with an actual depiction of him in General Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait.
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:58 AM on March 19, 2019

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