How the Entertainment Industry Distorts History
How the Entertainment Industry Distorts History

How the Entertainment Industry Distorts History

Larry Holzwarth - December 26, 2019

How the Entertainment Industry Distorts History
Several portrayals of William Bligh have distorted history and besmirched his character. Wikimedia

23. Distortions of history are often undisputed

In three major motion pictures, and in the trilogy of novels on which two of them were based, British naval officer William Bligh was depicted as a tyrannical, sadistic, and almost incompetent ship’s captain. The depiction was accepted to the point that other works of fiction, and some of non-fiction, used his name as an example of cruelty. Captain Bligh became a simile for brutality. It was completely untrue. The logs of the ships he commanded throughout his long and distinguished career (he achieved the rank of Vice-Admiral) indicate he was actually lenient in his punishments in comparison with most commanders of his time.

He was also a superb cartographer and navigator, deeply concerned with the health and welfare of the men under his command, and commended for his leadership in battle by Lord Nelson. The entertainment industry used him as the foil for the romantic presentation of the story of the Bounty beginning in the 1930s, and the reputation assigned to him in fiction has remained ever since. The true story of the Bounty is not the romantic legend of rebellion against tyranny, as the movies and books covering the subject have long presented. But the legend created by the entertainment industry remains intact, a complete distortion of history.

How the Entertainment Industry Distorts History
An Allentown, Pennsylvania advertisement for the film Mrs. Miniver. Wikimedia

24. Distortions of history are more likely to be encountered in films than historical facts

The film industry in the United States relies on a simple belief. History is a little-known discipline among their general audiences, and what is known is already largely incorrect. This allows liberties to be taken with historical characters. Thanks to the film Amadeus, Mozart became known as a vulgar and dissipated lout. The historical record says otherwise. U-571 depicted Americans capturing an Enigma machine during World War II. It never happened. The British broke the Enigma codes, using captured materials and information provided by Polish Intelligence.

Several educational sites recommend movies to be shown in high school history classes, even while noting that the films are often historically inaccurate. Among them are Mrs. Miniver, which was made as a piece of British war propaganda; A Man for All Seasons, which presents Thomas More in a wholly inaccurate manner; and Casablanca, which is completely fictional from beginning to end. Too often, distortions of history which began in the minds of filmmakers are reinforced in history classes, becoming the history which is known by the public.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Richard III” Charles Ross. 1981

“Parson Weems” Article, George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Online

“The Real Story of Revere’s Ride”. Article, The Paul Revere House. Online

“The Liberty Boys of ‘76”. Online Book Page, University of Pennsylvania. Online

“The Dime Novel Companion: A Source Book”. Randolph J. Cox. 2000

“The Great Train Robbery”. Article, AMC Filmsite. Online

“The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History”. Gary W. Gallagher, Alan T. Nolan. 2000

“The Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s”. Article, The American Experience. Online

“The final frontier”. Jonathan Jones, The Guardian. June 17, 2002

“Yes, Gone with the Wind is another Neo-Confederate Monument”. Ed Kilgore, New York Intelligencer. August 30, 2017

“Can Movies Teach History?” Richard Bernstein, The New York Times. November 26, 1989

“Television Westerns: Six Decades of Sagebrush Sheriffs, Scalawags, and Sidewinders. Alvin H. Marill. 2011

“Lincoln at the Movies”. Louis P. Masur, The Chronicle of Higher Education. November 26, 2012

“Greed, slavery, and Davy Crockett: The truth about Texas history”. Staff, Dallas Morning News. May 17, 2012

“Roots of the problem: the controversial history of Alex Haley’s book”. John Dugdale, The Guardian. February 9, 2017

“Blighs vs Christians, the 209-year feud”. Tim Minogue, The Independent. October 23, 2011

“Film can have a leading role in education”. Harriet Swain, The Guardian. November 19, 2013