Movies seem to
be evolving in the wrong direction. Instead of making a documentary of an
important event in our history, filmmakers decide to do it as it’s still
happening. This means films often fabricate characters as well as facts. “The Fifth Estate,” about the (in)famous WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, looks as if it will be one such film.
BBC News recently reported on a leaked email exchange between Assange and Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Assange in the upcoming movie. In the emails, Assange urges Cumberbatch to back out of the movie: “I do not believe it is going to be positive for me or the people I care about,” he wrote.
Assange claims the act of making this into a film will unduly influence the public in the situation.
Should movies have this much power, especially when they can fabricate stories so completely?
Filmmakers should not be allowed to make a movie based on a living subject without his or her permission.
They might have their facts wrong, depict the subject in a biased manner or fabricate conversations.
The public isn’t necessarily informed enough to realize that a movie is only a movie. Film viewers may have difficulty separating fact from fiction, especially when it is based on true events.
Because this is not a documentary, the movie’s producers should be liable for whatever harm may come in the unfolding Assange saga.
This could develop into a libel and slander case. However, with Assange currently hiding in an Ecuadorian embassy from extradition by the U.S. government (as well as the Swedish government) the movie industry has taken a chance at producing its own view of what really happened.
This sort of situation is not exactly new, but so far this has become a useful trend for moviemakers to gain money.
If directors would just wait to ensure they have their facts right, and wait until someone is comfortable with the movie, they might do less social harm.
In the case of the Academy Award-winning film, “The King’s Speech,” screenwriter David Seidler waited for Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, to pass on before he wrote the film, so she would not experience any painful memories of her late husband during her final years.
The movie was highly praised, and no hierarchy was hurt by views of the public.
What if “The Fifth Estate” filmmakers had waited until they had witnessed the conclusion to Assange’s story?
Well, they might have a more interesting, factual piece on their hands. But as it is now, the movie seems anything but.
If filmmakers continue to blur the fine line between a documentary and historical fiction, there may be a confused and unduly biased public in the years to come.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org.