"It may not be factual, but it's truthful." That's how Los Angeles Times reporter John Horn begins his article, "When Movies Don't Let the Facts Get in the Way of a Good Story," which investigates how several recent dramatic movies play fast and loose with real stories in the name of framing a good one for the big screen. And an unusually long list of high-profile films this awards season have real-world backdrops: 12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips, Fruitvale Station, Saving Mr. Banks, The Wolf of Wall Street, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Philomena and Dallas Buyers Club.
Horn notes that filmmakers often omit details that might make certain characters look bad: "What's notable about some of the movies under the truth-squad microscope is that they are being adjudicated less for what they include but, rather, for what they leave out," he says. "The excisions inevitably depict the film's central character more favorably, including trimming Walt Disney's anti-Semitic friends and union-busting beliefs from Saving Mr. Banks; steering clear of accusations that the skipper of the Maersk Alabama sailed too close to the Somali coast in Captain Phillips; and disregarding the plight of Jordan Belfort's stock-swindled victims in The Wolf of Wall Street." Horn argues that moviegoers and critics are willing to overlook omissions in the case of the first two films, because "the films, nevertheless, preserve their essential truths." But there's been much more push-back in the case of The Wolf of Wall Street and Martin Scorsese's choice not to focus on a rogue stock broker's real-life victims.
Case in point: In an open letter to The Wolf of Wall Street's director Martin Scorsese and star Leonardo DiCaprio, the daughter of one of Belfort's business partners takes the pair to task. "So here's the deal," writes Christina McDowell, "You people are dangerous. Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals. We want to get lost in what? These phony financiers' fun sexcapades and coke binges? Come on, we know the truth. This kind of behavior brought America to its knees. And yet you're glorifying it. … Did you think about the cultural message you'd be sending when you decided to make this film?"
DiCaprio responds to these kinds of criticisms by saying, "I think if anyone watches this movie, at the end of Wolf of Wall Street, they're going to see that we're not at all condoning this behavior. In fact we're saying that this is something that is in our very culture and it needs to be looked at and it needs to be talked about." [latimes.com, 1/2/14; blogs.laweekly.com, 12/26/13; deadline.com, 12/30/13; hitfix.com, 12/30/13]
A new study from political scientists at the University of Notre Dame shows that watching sentimental, left-leaning films can push uncritical viewers in a more liberal direction. The researchers, led by Dr. Todd Adkins, surveyed 268 students about their political views. Then they showed them one of several films with what researchers described as leftward political leanings and surveyed the students again. They found that "[movies] possess the ability to change attitudes on issues that are unframed by the media." Adkins added that viewers who weren't thinking critically about film seemed most likely to be influenced. "Viewers come expecting to be entertained and are not prepared to encounter and evaluate political messages as they would during campaign advertisements or network news." [dailymail.co.uk, 12/27/13; independent.co.uk, 12/28/13 c&e]
Controversy ignited in mid-December when some of Duck Dynasty family patriarch Phil Robertson's outspoken comments about homosexuality appeared in an interview with GQ magazine. Among other things, Robertson paraphrased parts of 1 Corinthians 6, saying, "Don't be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won't inherit the kingdom of God. Don't deceive yourself. It's not right." Robertson also crudely referenced both male and female anatomy in his comparison of heterosexual and homosexual acts, prompting immediate protest from GLAAD, which labeled his remarks "vile."
A&E quickly suspended Robertson from the show, then reinstated him in the face of multiple boycotts, petitions and criticism. In its statement regarding bringing Robertson back onto the extremely popular cable show, A&E said, "As a global media content company, A+E Networks' core values are centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect. We believe it is a privilege for our brands to be invited into people's homes, and we operate with a strong sense of integrity and deep commitment to these principles. That is why we reacted so quickly and strongly to a recent interview with Phil Robertson. While Phil's comments made in the interview reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs and his own personal journey, he and his family have publicly stated they regret the 'coarse language' he used and the misinterpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article. He also made it clear he would 'never incite or encourage hate.' We at A+E Networks expressed our disappointment with his statements in the article and reiterate that they are not views we hold."
As for the Robertson family's statement, it reads in part, "We want you to know that first and foremost we are a family rooted in our faith in God and our belief that the Bible is His word. While some of Phil's unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse, his beliefs are grounded in the teachings of the Bible." [usatoday.com, 1/1/14; entertainment.time.com, 1/1/14; hollywoodreporter.com, 12/27/13; today.com, 12/27/13; usatoday.com, 12/18/13; uproxx.com, 12/20/13]
A new study out of New Zealand found that nearly 22% of the 387 13- to 16-year old girls surveyed admitted to cutting. But that statistic wasn't what really caught Dr. Shelley James' attention. Instead, the Massey University researcher said that what she and her team discovered about who is cutting flies in the face of the common perception that cutters are isolated, unpopular outcasts. "You have this stereotypical image of this reclusive, socially awkward person that self-harms," James said. "But the self-harming girls were far more likely to self-identify as being among the popular kids in school, and self-harming was not restricted to those commonly seen as the highly troubled teens." Further, James found that many girls had actually self-harmed in front of or with other people. "There were some surprising results. The number of girls who had actually harmed in front of other people was staggering to me. Approximately 23% of self-harming kids had harmed in front of other people, and nearly 12% had actually harmed in conjunction with another person, so they had harmed together. I didn't expect to see those kinds of figures." [counselheal.com, 12/9/13 stats]
"I'm a crusader for being yourself and loving yourself, but I've found it hard to practice. I'll be unavailable for the next 30 days, seeking treatment for my eating disorder … to learn to love myself again. exactly as I am."
—26-year-old pop singer Ke$ha, regarding her decision to check into rehab. Sources close to the singer say she has been struggling with weight issues for several years, especially in the wake of allegedly being compared to a "refrigerator" by producer Dr. Luke in 2012, which one source says profoundly affected her self-image. [music-mix.ew.com, 1/3/14; tmz.com, 1/4/14; people.com, 1/5/14]
"You hear horror stories where you think, 'God, who's looking after these people and why does it seem like they're losing their way?' I mean, you think about someone like Miley Cyrus, and I said to my daughter the other day, 'I'm this close to opening my mouth about what's going on with that girl'. Who is actually saying, 'Stop for a second, what do you want, who are you?'"
—actress Kate Winslet [independent.co.uk, 1/2/14]