What Happens When Factually Flawed Films Hit Our Classrooms?

Should teachers pick up the pieces and seize these inaccuracies as opportunities to discuss them in class and correct them?

Last Updated: February 21, 2013 @ 2:44 PM

Besides anticipating who Seth MacFarlane is going to have Ted wear at the podium as they announce the Best Animated Picture, there are other serious reasons why I am admittedly eager about this year's Oscars show .

Several nominated films are mired in controversy over scenes that allegedly misrepresent real events. "Zero Dark Thirty," "Argo" and "Lincoln" are in the public crosshairs for apparently pushing the envelope of artistic liberty in some of these films' scenes.

Unquestionably, the entertainment industry has grown into a powerful, if not the most powerful, means of communication of our time, and its influence cannot be ignored. Which begs the question: Should films be categorized as mere entertainment and not held responsible for factual content?

The socio-economic-cultural-political impact of the movie industry today is greater than simply providing an outlet for artistic creativity to flourish and tell stories with flair.

No. Films are much, much more than that. The film industry's power in the classroom is also stronger.

Classroom instruction in America found the value of Hollywood some time ago; watching films in class isn't just for film-school students. Movies like "Roots" and documentaries about the Kennedy assassinations are played in classrooms as a more effective way of showing instead of telling students about impactful historical events.

Just this week, my high-school senior watched former President Bill Clinton's uncensored impeachment hearings in an advanced-placement U.S. government class. Fittingly, the teacher labeled that day's lesson on the whiteboard as “Watching Disturbing Videos.”  (I appreciate that the American classroom is showing the future of our country how not to behave when you are in the White House! But I digress.)

As the film industry has realized, rendering historical accounts of our country's past on the big and small screen has broad and significant audience appeal.

Whether it's Steven Spielberg's depiction of a single man's attempt to save as many Jews as he could from the Nazi genocide in "Shindler's List" (also shown in classrooms), to bringing to life a crucial moment in our country's politics in "Lincoln," to Katherine Bigelow's portrayal of American bravery while battling in foreign territories for the sake of our homeland's freedom in "The Hurt Locker" and "Zero Dark Thirty," to Quentin Tarantino's sadistic blend of film noire ("Inglorious Bastards," "Djandgo Unchained"), these stories grip us because they tell us about the heart or hatred that humankind has and is capable of directing at other humans. 

More importantly, these films show us in vivid and living color what we as a civilization must not forgets.  

However, criticism about the lack of truthfulness or historical fact in movies continues.

 "Zero Dark Thirty's" torture scenes and "Argo's" tarmac chase scene are examples of the ongoing debate over accuracy versus artistic freedom in films.

Hollywood's version of these events is now being closely scrutinized as a failure to stick to the facts and historical evidence in the making of these epic reels in favor of drama.

Such is the case with the recent controversy Spielberg's "Lincoln" created when the format of the crucial vote to pass the 13th Amendment was re-created in this film and apparently altered to produce drama.

A New York Times columnist and a Connecticut congressman are calling on Spielberg, to correct and re-film this scene before the movie is distributed to every middle and high schools across this country that wants the DVD.

While Hollywood sorts out how much responsibility the industry has regarding the historical films it produces, and which might end up on national school curriculums, should teachers pick up the pieces and seize these inaccuracies as opportunities to discuss them in class and correct them?

Teachers are already burdened with other instruction issues like ensuring their students are safe at school. So short of providing lesson plans to accompany those "Lincoln" DVDs being shipped to schools, it's doubtful that educators would have time to engage their students in a lively post-screening Q&A to clarify any misrepresentations in a movie.

A short-term solution would be to add a disclaimer about the accuracy of the events at the beginning of these Hollywood turned- educational DVDs.

This Oscars are commendable for their attempt to round up films that focus on strong messages our current society needs; real tales of self-sacrifice, determination, examples of the will to live and survive obstacles and bringing about justice.

As for MacFarlane, there's no doubt he'll rise to the level of respect the 85th Academy Awards (couldn't resist using this more elegant term here) deserve while providing the levity this traditionally extra-long show needs to keep us tuned in.

And MacFarlane's hosting gig may well become one for the books, or reels, given that the irreverent comedian has a timeless Sinatra-esque style and an incredibly broad arc of talent.

Still, I wonder who that naughty Stewie will wear to the Oscars, Huggies or Pampers?







Suzette Valle was recognized by Time Warner Cable as one of San Diego's Best Moms. She is the author of "101 Movies to See Before You Grow Up" (Walter FosterJr. Fall 2015), a reference book for kids. She has appeared on the "Dr. Phil" show discussing the effects of reality shows on families. Her posts have been featured on Fox,YahooMovies.com, and Movies.MSN.com. A mother of two, she lives in San Diego with her husband. She blogs about parenting and Hollywood's influence on children's daily lives and family values at www.MamarazziKnowsBest.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SuzetteValle.