Not long ago, I saw this essay pointing out a huge hole in the otherwise excellent Jackie Robinson biopic 42: the total absence of his faith, which was ubiquitous in his real life.
Such changes to how we tell stories about history say more about our time than they do about times in the past.
Two small examples I noticed in movies I’ve recently seen:
Hidden Figures was a fantastic movie. I loved everything about it. Except one tiny detail kept nagging at me.
Not a single person is ever seen smoking.
Even growing up in the 80’s, as smoking was making its retreat from mainstream life, I saw smoking all over the place. Smoking was so omnipresent in the 1960’s that it should be in literally every scene. Like the historical contribution of the women in the film, it has been hidden.
It’s not even just reduced. Its place in history appears to have been entirely erased.
It’s more than a stylistic choice–it’s an act of censorship that makes its target all the more obvious for its now abject absence.
The other example is a little less obvious, but still shows an aversion to accuracy.
Kong: Skull Island is a pretty mediocre action movie. Like a lot of modern movies, it has a rainbow coalition of characters, in an amalgamation of colors and gender that rarely if ever actually existed in its purported setting–the Vietnam era of the early 70s. Don’t forget that this movie takes place shortly after the setting of Mad Men…not exactly a time of general tolerance.
And yet, nobody in Kong: Skull Island ever makes an ethnic joke. This might seem like a petty observation, and sure, the world is a better place without such humor, but like the non-smoking in Hidden Figures, the absolute deletion of this very common aspect of recent history says even more about us than it does about our parents and grandparents.
Movies with children, released after the period of this film–like The Bad News Bears or Stand By Me–are full of ethnic insults. That’s just the way society was. But in the world of Kong: Skull Island, the world is suddenly an equal multicultural Utopia, and nobody ever thinks to say a word about how strange that is for a military-heavy action film set in the 1970’s.
Frankly, that bit of dreaming is even more unbelievable than an island full of giant monsters.
These details remind me of the current fashion of censoring old monuments for being politically incorrect.