My recent movie-going experiences have triggered a question: Why isn’t the truth enough to hold our interest? I watched the film Selma. I loved it, and hope it will educate a new generation about the sacrifices made for our civil rights. That said, I was bothered by the film’s portrayal of LBJ, which oversimplified a complicated man. Did it make the drama more engaging to depict him as an enemy of MLK until the very end? Not to me. That film, like that time, had plenty of drama without polarizing Johnson into a two-dimensional politician. Selma did such a fine job of portraying King as a brave but flawed man. Why not depict LBJ as a well-rounded human being, too? In my opinion, it would have only strengthened the film.
I also saw The Imitation Game. I loved it, too. So much so that I wanted to read more about Alan Turing, the amazing man who saved millions of lives through his invention during World War II. Turns out, the film exaggerates Turing’s role; he adapted and improved a device that had already been invented. Its portrayal of him as an autism-spectrum genius was brilliantly acted by Benedict Cumberbatch, but it is PURE FICTION. Why did the filmmakers do this? From what I read, he was quite interesting enough. For example, he wasn’t a very closeted gay person—imagine that during the 1940s. Also, why were certain key figures omitted, and others added who weren’t there? Why so little regard for the truth?
Do we have to be manipulated in order to be sympathetic to certain characters? Would I have loved King less if LBJ wasn’t trying to shut him down, but was struggling with civil rights in his own way? Would I have had less of a connection with Alan Turing if he didn’t need to separate his carrots from his peas? If he was less of a Big Bang Sheldon and more of a charming genius?
One could argue that the filmmakers took creative license. I would argue that I am ready for the truth. I’m hungry for it, in fact. I’m capable of appreciating a world that isn’t completely polarized into good/bad, black/white. Complex, real relationships are far more interesting.
As a fiction writer, I sometimes set my novels and stories in real places. When I do this, I try to be loyal to fact. I don’t move towns or restaurants. If I need to change something in a setting, I rename it so that it is fiction. Some would argue that this is what the filmmakers attempted.
If I could speak to the directors and producers of these films, I’d say this: Fox News attracts viewers by skewing fact and playing on emotion. I wish you, instead, would trust us, your audience. Despite what someone in some movie once said, we can handle the truth.