#7: How do historical films affect and construct our understanding of history and historical events?

by asmith2017 on October 6, 2017 - 6:09pm

No matter how dramatic or grandiose some historical films can be, many people take them for face value and believe them to be historically accurate. Of course we know that this isn’t true. But for myself and tons of people, we get pulled into the popular culture historical films and I believe that hey do heavily influence our understanding of history and historical events.

I think for the majority of people a lot of what we know about historical events first comes from the influence of films. Without some of the historical films we watched in class I would have never been introduced to such historical events like the Biafran War or the Sabra and Shatila massacre. I think for myself, and a lot of the general population, films have the ability to introduce a historical event that I will then go and research afterwards to learn more about. Historical films, no matter how accurate, can be great tools to introduce historical events to people. That means that our understanding of history can be constructed by films due to the fact that without them, we wouldn’t have even known that the event had happened.

Of course, without the research, people can come to believe that the way historical events have been depicted in a film is accurate. For this reason, historical films can have great power in terms of influencing the mass majority. In my opinion, films and television are today’s most powerful media. People are more likely to watch a historical film regarding an event before they read a novel about that event. And that means that historical films can influence the mass majority in regards to how we think an event happened, who they key players were, and the outcomes and effects of the event. I think that popular films with a strong point of view and a clear message regarding a historical event are likely to then be reflected in the thoughts and opinions of the mass majority. For example, one could probably ask a room full of people if they were aware that Moroccan and Algerian soldiers were a part of the evacuation at Dunkirk. And my guess is that the majority of people would say they weren’t. This is because the major feature film “Dunkirk” never depicted these soldiers who were in fact a part of the French army. This example shows how films can be the only exposure to historical events for some people. And in the absence of scrutiny these films are believed to be fact.

Overall, I do think that historical films can greatly shape and construct the way society understands historical events. If a filmmaker chooses to omit information or add things into the film for the sake of the story the average person may not be aware of those changes and subsequently their only exposure information about the historical event could be inaccurate. Of course, that gives filmmakers a lot of power in a sense. It should also caution viewers of films to always be critical of what they are watching and research the event afterwards so that they are able to obtain a more accurate understanding of the event.


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