Bear with me on this one. We will eventually come to how the American Civil War ties into this conversation, but I have a lot of other things to talk about first. And I should also warn: minor spoilers ahead.
I was moved to silence after seeing Rogue One, the first spin-off film of the Star Wars franchise. Even now, tears creep into my eyes as I remember how it shook me. I had heard reviews claiming that it was the first Star Wars movie to put the cost of war at the center of the narrative. I hadn’t expected it to be so true.
Movies based on history have been popular since the rise of film in the entertainment industry. Transporting audiences to a different place and time period is something that film has always had the ability to do and often does very well. Though many films that are based on historical subject matter are carefully researched and try to be as historically accurate as possible, many historians take issue with their historical inaccuracies. There are countless opinions out in the world about the importance and role of historical accuracy in film. Most of these opinions fall into one of two camps: those that argue films should try to be more historically accurate if they are portraying a specific event or time period and those that argue that films should be allowed to take creative liberties with historical accuracy.
Historians will often argue, with good reason, that films that do not take historical accuracy seriously run the risk of giving audiences false impressions of historical events or even time periods as a whole. Films are often guilty of idealizing or romanticizing history at least to some degree, which can give the audience a false impression of the history behind the film. History is not black and white; there are often many different sides to a story and lots of gray areas, which can sometimes be difficult to convey in a film.
I was excited to see the first experimental showing of the documentary Hallowed Ground on Thursday, November 14th. The movie focused on many main characters and included the history of a few physical sites. The first character, a Lincoln impersonator, held a deep passion for the time period and the 16th president which kept him going even through economic hardship. His story is symbolic of the difficulties between rivaling definitions of the Civil War.
A large portion of the film included a father-son story of southern Lost Cause sentiment and old time, white supremacist race relations. To offset the radical nature of these Sons of Confederate Veterans, Hallowed Ground featured the narrative of a battlefield guide who argued that the Civil War started over the issue of slavery. These two stories exemplified the constant battle between people who have a connection to the Civil War, whether through ancestors or just auxiliary obsessions.