The 87th Annual Academy Awards are only a couple of months away, leading to much spirited discussion among movie fans about which films and filmmakers deserve to have their hard work validated with little golden statues. That will then lead to another awards-season tradition as studios and op-ed columnists try to tear down certain movies by attacking their factual accuracy. The practice ran rampant last year as critics picked apart the historical accuracy of 12 Years A Slave, wondered if the real Captain Phillips was friendly enough to be played by Tom Hanks, and questioned whether anything that happened in Gravity made sense. Now, mudslinging season is open on two films considered frontrunners for Best Picture nominations: Selma and The Imitation Game.
The attack on Selma comes from Joseph A. Califano Jr., Lyndon Johnson’s assistant during the Selma marches. Writing in The Washington Post, Califano takes issue with the movie’s portrayal of the president, which shows him at odds with Martin Luther King Jr. and indicates that he only reluctantly supported the Voting Rights Act of 1965. According to Califano, Johnson and King were partners during the marches, and Johnson was a fierce proponent of the bill. Califano thinks that the movie should be “ruled out” during awards season, which inspired a response from director Ava DuVernay:
The Imitation Game, meanwhile, has been called out by journalist Christian Caryl in an article for The New York Review Of Books. Caryl accuses the filmmakers of shearing away the more outgoing sides of computing pioneer Alan Turing‘s personality, and for rewriting history to make it seem like he was more of an underdog during his early attempts to break Nazi codes.
However, 12 Years A Slave still won the Academy Award for Best Picture last year despite assaults on its credibility, so these kinds of attacks might not have much impact on a movie’s chances for Oscar success. They could even be taken as a compliment, since no one would bother to smear a movie that didn’t have a decent shot at winning. We note, for example, that few people seem to be questioning the historical verisimilitude of A Million Ways To Die In The West.
This year’s Oscar nominations have not been announced yet (voting started this past Monday), but both Selma and The Imitation Game are considered serious contenders for Best Picture, so attacks on their historical accuracy are likely to continue. Other movies widely expected to receive nominations, like Boyhood and Birdman, would seem to be insulated from these sorts of factual assaults, unless Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to weigh in on whether Michael Keaton could really fly like that.