Looking for geographic variety in period movies and TV
August 11, 2020 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Wikipedia has two lists of historical dramas: one for those set in Asia, and one for those set in Near Eastern and Western civilization. Please tell me about period dramas set elsewhere, or overlooked by those lists, and how good they are ("good" meaning entertaining and historically accurate).
posted by NotLost to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The Nightingale, written and directed by Jennifer Kent of Babadook fame, is set in 1825 Tasmania. It has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 86% and nearly swept the top AACTA awards (Best Film, Best Direction, Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Supporting Actress). However, it is not everyone’s cup of tea due to extreme depictions of violence, murder, and rape.
posted by ejs at 8:03 AM on August 11, 2020

I don't know how accurate it is, but Daughters of the Dust is fantastic.
posted by Mchelly at 8:34 AM on August 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

Very, very early in Heath Ledger's career, he had a lead role in a fantasy TV series called Roar - which ostensibly was set in pre-Christian, Celtic Ireland. I was hip-deep in my Hiberniophile phase when it came out, so I checked it out; it gets some of the Celtic-Ireland trappings right, but there's also a bit involving a 400 year old Roman Soldier who's been cursed with immortality because he was the guy who stabbed Jesus at the Crucifixion.

So...points for addressing a not-often cultural tradition, but historically accurate it ain't. Maybe worth a watch for the "so bad it's good" aspect or if you're a big Heath Ledger fan.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:46 AM on August 11, 2020

The Australian western The Proposition is well-reviewed and is set in the outback during the 1880s. I can't really guess how entertaining you'll find it (it's pretty grim) but it apparently gets points for historical accuracy. The Wikipedia entry says this:
Three acclaimed Indigenous Australian actors (David Gulpilil, Tom E. Lewis and Leah Purcell) have supporting roles in the film.

As noted in behind-the-scenes features included on The Proposition DVD, the film is regarded as uncommonly accurate in depicting indigenous Australian culture of the late 19th century, and when filming in the outback, the cast and crew took great pains to follow the advice of indigenous consultants. In an interview included on the DVD, Lewis even compares the depiction of indigenous cultures in The Proposition to the landmark film The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), which Lewis starred in.
posted by Mothlight at 10:14 AM on August 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you're wanting to avoid movies that focus on "Western civilization", which probably would include Australia. I'm going to assume that you want to avoid colonial-perspective movies too, such as Out of Africa or Dances with Wolves.

Out of the films set in pre-Columbian America listed on Wikipedia, I can recommend Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, which is based on Inuit oral tradition. Along different lines, there's Apocalypto, though you may feel weird watching a movie directed by Mel Gibson at this point in history. (I only know it by reputation; I haven't watched it.) Most of the remainder appear to be movies about the Viking or Columbian contacts with the Americas.

There's also a page on Wikipedia of Films set in pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africa, though I'm not familiar with any of the movies listed there.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:45 AM on August 11, 2020

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner is an Inuit historical film set in northern Canada
posted by Chenko at 10:51 AM on August 11, 2020

Along different lines, there's Apocalypto, though you may feel weird watching a movie directed by Mel Gibson at this point in history. (I only know it by reputation; I haven't watched it.)

I have; if you're expecting it to be like his Passion Of The Christ as far as heavy-handed religiosity, it's fortunately free of that. There is the implication that "the Mayan culture failed because it was all decadent and exploitative", but that's not that fresh a take. It's basically an escape movie - the protagonist is part of a small village who's captured by the Mayans as a potential human sacrifice, but he escapes and flees through the jungle to get back home. There is a scene where we see Spanish Conquistadors rowing ashore, but it's more of them being a Deus Ex Machina that serves to distract some Mayan soldiers that are pursuing him, but a distraction is all they are - it's not like he begs them for protection and then converts or anything like that.

Although this is also reminding me of The Mission, which addresses the fact that some early Jesuit missionaries in South America were trying to work with the indigenous people and protect them from Spanish exploitation.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:02 AM on August 11, 2020

Does "Out of Africa" qualify? Or "Lawrence of Arabia"?
posted by Dolley at 4:10 PM on August 11, 2020

A half recommendation to Black Orpheus, which has some of the most beautiful music you’ll ever hear (Tom Jobim is inventing Bossa Nova as he goes), but is surely exoticising its Black characters.

Another recommendation to the work of Sembene Ousmaine, which struck me as very cool when I saw it, although it’s been almost thirty years.
posted by condour75 at 4:37 PM on August 11, 2020

(I realize in rereading that Black Orpheus isn’t really a period drama, as the action is in contemporary Rio)
posted by condour75 at 4:41 PM on August 11, 2020

It looks like Hester Street was overlooked on the lists, and is definitely worth watching. More info.

Also, if you can find it, check out Utu.
posted by gudrun at 7:35 PM on August 12, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions!

Johnny Assay was correct. I probably should have said that I was looking for cultural variety at least as much as geographic variety. Some of you picked up on that.
posted by NotLost at 8:48 PM on August 12, 2020

Best answer: Filmmaking by African directors in former French colonies is/was funded quite well by France. My googling is pants so at first I couldn't find any modern lists of film makers that weren't restricted to academia.

Apart from: Cinema of Africa (wikipedia). Recommended, as are the following two articles. I understand you're after historical films but it may be more productive to search around in the work of contemporary filmmakers (who may have made a film set in the past) than to look for lists of historical films from diverse makers because those lists as such may not be there.

Six Emerging African Filmmakers You Should Know About (Little White Lies)

Is African Filmmaking on the Rise (Little White Lies)

And Netflix has streamed a few Nollywood productions recently including The Wedding Party.

There is quite a difference between the Francophone films and Nollywood. The French-funded films tend to be film-as-art whereas Nollywood is purely popular and commercial. So for instance The Wedding Party, highly entertaining with strong female characters is 100% solidly behind patriarchal values (it's just that the patriarchal values I grew up with allow women to be strong, independent and self-directed as long as god and the world are confirmed by men being the boss in the end.)

There are plenty of historical Nollywood films, of varying quality, but a list wouldn't be much good as they are made for the local market and turnover is very quick. Once it's no longer current I don't know how you'd find a given title except by accident at a local vendors. If you are interested in Nollywood films and you are anywhere near a Nigerian community with shops that sell African goods it would be worth browsing through available titles.

If you ever get a chance to watch Saraounia (1984 about events in 1898) you should take it. it is fantastic, I've seen it once, and I've not been able to find a DVD or even VHS copy anywhere.
posted by glasseyes at 9:49 AM on August 13, 2020

Best answer: Found some publicity about the film Saraounia which it turns out was shown last year in New York. I watched it with a group of Black women when it came out - none of us had ever seen that world, nor that point of view (our point of view) portrayed in film ever before and it was such a moving experience.
posted by glasseyes at 11:30 AM on August 13, 2020

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