Do movies distort society’s view of history more than literature?

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Historical fiction brings history to life by romanticizing the past. That’s the definitive factor: it’s a fictionalized story, reflecting a specific time period; sometimes done by reconstructing and even revising characters, events, and the spirit of a bygone era.
“Good” historical fiction, whether a book, film or TV series, will borrow from real moments in time related to evolving economic and societal issues, revealing a strange way of resonating with the present, hundreds of years later. In doing so, it might be more helpful in making sense of the current world. Historical fiction doesn’t just tell us what happened; they make us feel, see and relive this world. It humanizes history and historical figures, often creating empathy for what other people have experienced at different times, in a way that is separate from our own political baggage.

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It is certainly something bigger than a simple reconstruction of history. It transports us to a new world, a new and unfamiliar version of the past – becoming an immersive story that brings interesting characters to life, while simultaneously capturing something essential, not only about the historical setting but also about the larger truths. depths of human existence. The point is that any contemporary historical fiction – whether book or film – must, to some extent, reflect contemporary values ​​and concerns, and setting it in the distant past can give us a unique and lucid perspective on the present.

Does historical fiction distort the truth?

Yes, it is, because it is fiction, not history. It is the dramatization of a historical event. So, is it okay to reinvent history in the name of entertainment? Again, this is creative fiction, not a history textbook. Also, how much of the story is fiction? What if we reinvented history for political purposes? Fictionalized story or historical fiction? Underlying all of this is the age-old problem of the relationship between history and truth.

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There has been a strong but controversial relationship between history and fiction in the style in which they are presented. The fictionalized story has therefore been with us from the start!

There has been a strong but controversial relationship between history and fiction in the style in which they are presented. Getty Images

Our understanding of the past is quite nebulous. Stories are contested, corrupted and poorly remembered, and consensus is not always easy. This makes historical truth very difficult to pin down and often bitterly disputed.

History is created as much by omission as by inclusion. The creator of the fictionalized story is thus caught in a dilemma and must exercise caution. It is therefore not easy for an author to undertake the writing of this delicate genre. Any writer who tells a story set in the past must walk the fine line between history and fiction, between contemporary reader sensibilities and historical accuracy.

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If there is the history of historians, there is also the history of artists. Whether through stories, ballads, soap operas or movies. We see a largely jingoistic type of ‘story’ of our kings and princesses, shaping them to create a sense of national identity, and also allowing Bollywood to shape the sense of a great and great Indian destiny, by showing an era which bears little resemblance to real life. But it still exerts a stronger effect of truth on the public imagination than much of our “real” history. Writers, especially for the movies, appropriated the heroic aspects to create a sense of national pride and a tradition of military prowess while ignoring the less savory side of these kings’ personalities as detrimental to their heroic status.

There is a difference in expectations between reading a novel and reading a history book. In the first case, we know that we are entering a fictional world; in the latter we expect to encounter an honest and truthful account of the past. This demarcation between history and fiction no longer exists.

Films are said to potentially distort society’s view of the past more than literature, as they reach a wider audience and are multi-sensory. Visual media have a strong impact and there is some truth in the adage “seeing is believing”.

Movies are said to potentially distort society's view of the past more than literature

Movies are said to potentially distort society’s view of the past more than literature Getty Images

But there are good historical films, which far from detracting from the truth of history, reinforce it by showing us a historical event in the most realistic way possible. However, for every film that sticks closely to facts, many stray far, almost totally sacrificing historical accuracy for epic adventure.

Since such films are presented as true and most of their audiences label them as historical facts, it is probably fair to describe them as detrimental to historical truth. Is it important? Perhaps not for most viewers, but locally they are influential in the resurgence of provincialism showing the film’s ability to plant false memories in the public consciousness.

Movies accused of distortion, sell a misleading version of history, but ultimately if they pique our interest, chances are we’ll investigate the matter for ourselves. As such, they detract from the truth effect to some degree, but they also create interest that may lead some viewers to later end up with a better understanding of the historical character and event being covered. Historical fiction invites us all to think about the past as yesterday continues to encroach on today.

So here the part of fiction is crucial in historical fiction. Check the fiction in the story: the historical fiction is not the story.

(Kavita Kane is a mythological fiction writer and former journalist)


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