Nation & World

Commentary: Hollywood isn't the place for accurate history

The movie Django Unchained, the 2012 American epic western film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, has received a lot of criticism.

Some say it is not a true depiction of slavery, and others, having counted the number of times the N-word is used, say it flows too easily and frequently during the film.

Director Spike Lee said he was boycotting the movie because "it is disrespectful of my ancestors." He later tweeted that American slavery "was a holocaust" and not the spaghetti Western he believes Django to be.

There weren't many slaves in 1858 who were accomplished bounty hunters, as portrayed by Jamie Foxx, and who had the help necessary to find their spouse who had been sold to a demonic slave owner with a mean turncoat servant, as played by Samuel L. Jackson.

The film Lincoln also has the N-word bandied about. Should we complain about that as well?

It is a movie, people. It is entertainment. It is meant to pull in a lot of money. It is not the truth.

We can't handle the truth.

Otherwise, we would have flocked to the theaters when Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions gave us Beloved in 1998, a movie based on the 1988 Toni Morrison Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same title.

Beloved was based on a real slave trying unsuccessfully to flee real slavery. In January 1856, Margaret Garner, along with eight family members and several other slaves from farms near Covington, crossed a frozen Ohio River into Cincinnati.

Garner and her family hid with a relative who was free, but they were soon found by their master, Archibald Gaines, and U.S. Marshals, according to the Kentucky Historical Society.

Her husband, Robert Garner, tried to save his family, shooting one of the men, but he was soon overcome.

That's when Margaret Garner slit the throat of her 2-year-old daughter, killing her so that the child would not be returned to slavery. Garner attempted to kill her other children and herself, but she was stopped. Still, two of her boys were cut, and the infant she carried was hit in the face with a coal shovel, according to the historic society.

The family was jailed in Cincinnati while Ohio and Kentucky debated whether a murder charge in a free state trumped a federal law in a slave state that required the return of slaves to their masters.

Kentucky won and the Garners were returned to the Gaines farm in Boone County.

Although attempts were made to return Margaret Garner to Cincinnati to be tried for murder and then, presumably, pardoned, authorities could never find the family again. Gaines continually moved them.

In 1870, a reporter from the Cincinnati Chronicle interviewed Robert Garner. He was living with his two grown sons in Cincinnati. Garner told the reporter he had fought for the Union in the war and that his wife died in Mississippi in 1858 of typhoid fever. She died a slave.

The film Beloved was a fictional version of that true story. I think most movie audiences are not looking for the truth, but are looking for entertainment.

Would I like for movies to be more historically accurate? Sure. But not many are.

American slavery was extremely cruel, molded to be that way by laws created to keep one race designated as free labor so another race could prosper. The devastation that caused cannot be depicted accurately in a vehicle that is meant to produce money.

Non-fiction books and film documentaries that are meant to educate have come far closer. Expect more from those venues and just enjoy the popcorn at the theater.