Tag Archives: To Kill a King

HOLLYWOOD IS NOT IN THE BUSINESS OF TEACHING HISTORY

Patriot

Hollywood is adding to US foreign policy woes at an incredible rate. No less than four current movies are causing upsets in various parts of the world.

“The Interview” has received a lot of attention.   I have not seen it and would have had no interest in seeing it, if North Korea’s paranoid regime hadn’t flipped out over the movie, blaming the US president personally for its showing. (When you’ve grown up in a country where the “Dear Leader” decides everything, it’s not surprising that people think the US president plays the same role in America!)

The movie revolves around a comedic attempt to assassinate the leader of North Korea. Along the way it makes fun of the more comical aspects of the regime.

As the US has never had good relations with North Korea anyway, Pyongyang’s anger can largely be ignored. But other movies are also a problem.

“American Sniper” has been labeled racist by Muslims who see the conflict with ISIS as a continuation of the clash of civilizations between the “Christian” West and the Islamic world. The movie tells the true story of the US military’s greatest sniper, who killed over 200 people during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As all his victims were Muslims, he, therefore, must be a racist. Don’t look for logic – it’s not a strong point with people who grew up in the Middle East.

“Unbroken” is also a problem, this time with the Japanese. Conservatives in the country are upset over the way Japan’s troops are portrayed in the film, which again is a true story, telling the story of Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini’s experience in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in WWII.   It’s not the first movie to depict the horrors of life in a Japanese POW camp.   They had no respect for prisoners as their own military culture taught that fighting to the death was preferable to surrender.

The truth is the truth. No apologies need be made for “American Sniper” or “Unbroken”, assuming they stuck to the truth.

Even “Exodus” has been quite controversial, thousands of years after the event. My wife and I didn’t like it. Nor did the Egyptians who said it was “inaccurate,” that Jewish slaves did not build the pyramids and that the depiction of ancient Egyptians was not accurate. Although the depiction of the plagues was interesting and imaginative, and Christian Bale played a convincing Moses, the parting of the Red Sea and receiving of the Ten Commandments were much better in the 1956 version, when special effects were more primitive.   Perhaps the downplaying of the commandments reflects changing societal attitudes in the interim decades.

In Egypt, ‘Censors objected to the “intentional gross historical fallacies that offend Egypt and its pharaonic ancient history in yet another attempt to Judaize Egyptian civilization, which confirms the international Zionist fingerprints all over the film,” the statement said.

The ministry said the movie inaccurately depicts ancient Egyptians as “savages” who kill and hang Jews, arguing that hanging did not exist in ancient Egypt. It said the film also presents a “racist” depiction of Jews as a people who mounted an armed rebellion. The ministry said religious scriptures present Jews as weak and oppressed.

The statement also objected to the depiction of God as a child, which also drew criticism in the West.’  (Seattle Times, December 28th)

Hollywood has always had a problem with religion, rarely depicting biblical events with any degree of accuracy. “The Ten Commandments” (1956) was one of the better biblical movies, with considerable input from Josephus.

But Hollywood has also had a serious problem with history. I cannot think of any historical movie made in Hollywood that was 100% accurate. “Braveheart” has been labeled the most historically inaccurate movie ever made, with 87 historical inaccuracies, according to one website. Another Mel Gibson movie, “The Patriot” got the prize for the fourth most inaccurate movie in history. Amongst other things, the movie depicted British soldiers burning down a church with people in it. The film was set during the Revolutionary War.   British soldiers have never burned down a church full of worshippers, never at any time in history. If they did, they would be court-martialed and severely punished. But it made for great entertainment!

Mel Gibson defended these movies by saying, “We are not in the business of teaching history. We are in the business of providing entertainment to make money.” (The quote is a paraphrase heard on NPR many years ago.)

At least he was honest. Perhaps his anti-semitic rantings owe their origin to the same ignorance of history!

Hollywood has always had a problem with history.

Exactly a century ago next month, what is considered the most influential movie in American history, premiered. “The Birth of a Nation” was an anti-black, pro-KKK movie that led to riots in cities across America. The film was set during the Civil War and Reconstruction and blamed African-Americans for the problems that plagued the US during this period. The NAACP tried to get the film banned. The movie was the first motion picture screened at the White House, then occupied by President Woodrow Wilson.

In an age when few people read anything in depth, preferring to spend their time with electronic gadgets, including TV and DVD’s, movies are perceived as fact.   But they rarely are. If you want to know the facts, you have to read and do the research.

The 1960 John Wayne movie “The Alamo” was made with two historical advisers during production. One of them walked off the set saying, “there isn’t one minute of historical accuracy in this film” but it hasn’t stopped people watching it in the last 55 years.

Hollywood has a responsibility to strive for accuracy. It can be done. Good movies can be made while maintaining accuracy. “To Kill a King” is a prime example. This is a British movie about the English Civil War, the execution of the King and the subsequent Republic under Oliver Cromwell. The film was lauded by historians as the most accurate historical movie ever made.

Sadly, it’s hard to track down. Perhaps, after all, people are not interested in facts – they just want to be entertained!

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH AND THE SLAVE TRADE

Martin Freeman & Benedict Cumberbatch Film "Sherlock"

Benedict Cumberbatch is a British actor who is famous for his radical portrayal of  “Sherlock Holmes.” 

More recently, he has narrated an IMAX documentary on “Jerusalem” and starred in the critically acclaimed movie, “12 Years a Slave.”

The producer of the documentary, interviewed on CBS, revealed that, at the end of making the documentary on the 3,000 year old city, Cumberbatch asked:  “Why didn’t they teach us all this in school?”  I am not surprised that British schools no longer teach the basics of Christianity, another casualty of multiculturalism.  So Cumberbatch shouldn’t feel too bad about his historical ignorance on the significance of the ancient city.

He would, however, not be wise to venture into further comments on history.

He recently made the film “12 Years A Slave,” which tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man in New York, who was kidnapped prior to the Civil War and taken into slavery.  While the story is tragic, Cumberbatch was ingenuous when he apologized for his ancestors’ role in the business of slavery.  His apology only fuels the frequently raised demand for financial compensation.

How can we apologize for our ancestors?  The world was a very different place two centuries ago and we cannot sit in judgment of those who came before us.

Slavery was universally practiced throughout history.  It wasn’t just a black and white problem.  In the eighteenth century, one million white people were held as slaves by Muslims across the Middle East.  Considered property, they were called “White Gold.”

To my knowledge, the Muslims have never apologized for this, nor have any of their descendants demanded compensation.

According to a book on the origin of surnames, my family name “Rhodes” owes its origin to the island of Rhodes.  The Rhodes’ were apparently Jews on the island, expelled when the island was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1522.  I would very much appreciate it if the Turkish government would apologize for confiscating our family property and offer compensation, adjusted for inflation, of course!

Perhaps the British government should take up the cry and demand the Italians apologize for the Roman occupation of their island that lasted almost four centuries.  As the Italians are currently rather broke, they might have to take an IOU to be claimed at some future date.

As stated, slavery was a universal condition throughout history.

What is significant, and Cumberbatch should know this as a Brit, is that Great Britain was the most progressive of all the major powers two hundred years ago when it abolished slavery.  The abolition of the slave trade in 1807 was a major step forward in liberating mankind from this great evil.  But a change in the law did not change everything.

The Royal Navy was then given the job of stopping ships on the high seas and freeing slaves, white or black.  The famous missionary and explorer David Livingstone went into Africa determined to stamp out slavery.  He was well aware that African chiefs were selling their own people.  The expression “sold down the river” dates back to this time.

The slave trade in Livingstone’s time was carried out by Muslims, who took Africans to be sold in the Middle East.  The Arab slave traders were aided by Africans themselves.

The Royal Navy patrolled the West African coastline throughout the nineteenth century in its determination to end the trade.

Sadly, according to the UN, five decades after independence, slavery is back in every African country!  Only one African leader has apologized for it – former Ghanaian President John Kufour, who recognized that his own people were actively involved in the slave trade – and explained that slavery continues in his own country (a fact further publicized by Oprah Winfrey on her television program).  His apology coincided with the two hundredth anniversary of the British abolition of the trade, sponsored by William Wilberforce.

Actors need to be careful venturing into history.  Mel Gibson made two of the most historically inaccurate movies ever made, “Braveheart” and “The Patriot.”  After making the second one, he snapped at a film critic who challenged his interpretation of history, making it clear where he stood.  As I remember it, he said:  “We’re not in the business of teaching history.  We’re in the business of producing entertainment!”

This, of course, does not mean that movies aren’t influential – “Braveheart” has been very influential in fueling the fires of Scottish nationalism, which may result in Scotland leaving the UK in September of this year.  Few voters will have read that the movie contains a record 87 historical inaccuracies (that’s not my figure, I only realized three – but you can Google it).  (You can also Google “To Kill a King,” described as the most historically accurate movie ever made.)

Let’s all remember when we watch an historical movie to realize that it’s first and foremost entertainment provided to make money; and let’s also realize that no actor is qualified to comment on history any more than a historian is qualified to act.