22. Film often distorts its own history as well as that of others
The film industry in particular uses the medium to present its own history in a manner which is meant to be entertaining and informative, though not necessarily factual. Motion pictures which focus on the history of the industry are necessarily self-serving. Films about the lives of famous stars, such as Chaplin, Fields, Chaney, or filmmakers such as Howard Hughes and Alfred Hitchcock, had no obligation to be historically accurate, though labeling them as biographical implied that they were. Such films are for entertainment, rather than education, though the use of such films in formal education became commonplace in the 1980s at the secondary, and sometimes at the primary level.
The use of other types of films to teach history expanded in the late 20th century, with recognition of film’s superior capability to make a lasting impression. For example, the film version of Alex Haley’s Roots was used in classrooms across the United States. Roots was widely believed to be a factual representation of the author’s family history, though it was a novel, and large portions of the work lacked evidence supported by historical fact. After Haley’s death, his friend Henry Gates Jr, an historian, wrote in the Boston Globe, “Roots is a work of the imagination rather than strict historical scholarship. It was an important event because it captured everyone’s imagination”.