Data on Historical Accuracy in Hollywood Films

by Mark Wallace

Interesting (but also not) structuralist approach to assessing historical accuracy in recent movies from website Information is Beautiful. Selma is 100% historically accurate. I haven’t seen Selma but it sounded implausible to me that any film could be described as 100% historically accurate (even documentary footage has undergone selection of some sort), though I then noticed that IisB have a pedantry settings, and if set to maximum pedantry, Selma “only” gets 81%. Each film is divided into 50-ish scenes, and each scene gets a short commentary and comparison to documented history.

infoisbeautiful

Each scene is then scored on a simple 4-option colour-coded scale and the percentage is arrived at from this. It’s a pretty straightforward methodology (if relatively time-consuming and requiring a lot of knowledge), and is mildly diverting, though I would tend to agree with Alex von Tunzelmann in the Guardian’s piece on the data: “The results are mostly in the right ballpark, but I’d be reluctant to issue such precise percentage-point scores on historical accuracy. It’s a nice touch that you can alter the pedantry level on the site. Even so, historical truth isn’t a binary: you need fuzzy logic.”

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