The movies just love, love, love history. But history does not love the movies back. Not even one little bit.
Movies based on or re-creating the past have been a cinematic staple since the earliest days of silent film, with stage great Sarah Bernhardt, for instance, playing Queen Elizabeth I as far back as a 1912 star vehicle.
I don’t know what the reaction of concerned citizens was a century ago, but if “Queen Elizabeth” were to come out today, historians, academics and other interested parties would be all over it like white on rice.
That’s what happened recently when, just a few days after Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” appeared in theaters, the New York Times reported, on its august front page, no less, that Joseph A. Califano Jr., a former top aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson, had “accused the filmmakers of deliberately ignoring the historical record” in their depiction of the tumultuous relationship between the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and LBJ.
That wail of complaint is just one of a series that appear with some regularity these days. No one can have forgotten, for instance, how members of the U.S. Senate, a group not previously known for its critical acumen, gave “Zero Dark Thirty” and its depiction of torture in the pursuit of Osama bin Laden a lot of grief.