History by Hollywood: In Defense of the Movies

This lecture challenges familiar negative assessments of Hollywood’s treatment of history. It suggests movies can communicate important ideas about the past, but not in the way that teachers and scholars communicate through lectures and books.

Lecture Description

We typically think of feature films as popular entertainment, not influential works of art that shape public opinion. Yet history-oriented movies often make an impact. This presentation will examine several popular movies that portrayed people and events from history. Some of these films affected the American people’s judgments about their leaders. Others influenced the judgments of American presidents.
Can history-based movies educate the public? Pundits often complain that filmmakers invent and distort when portraying history. Some films do, indeed, fictionalize excessively. This lecture takes a different tact, however. It highlights differences between writing and filmmaking. Moviemakers necessarily exercise artistic license. Nevertheless, when they approach historical subjects intelligently, they can excite viewers’ interest in learning about the past.


Mass Communications Visual and Performing Arts

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