Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Oscars 2015: The Imitation Game and Selma criticised for being loose with the facts as voting season begins

The Alan Turning and Martin Luther King biopics have been criticised for taking liberties with the facts

Adam Sherwin
Friday 02 January 2015 13:13 GMT
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game' (Black Bear Pictures)

The 2015 Oscars battle has well and truly begun after The Imitation Game and Selma, both tipped for awards success, were lambasted over alleged historical inaccuracies in a pair of “hatchet-job” columns.

Oscar voting began on Monday and mudslinging, sometimes stirred up by rival contenders, over the veracity of films based on true stories, has become an annual feature.

The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the British mathematics genius who cracked Nazi codes, was accused of taking liberties with the facts in a heavily critical New York Review of Books blog.

Turing had been reduced to “a caricature of the tortured genius”, wrote Christian Caryl, who argued that the film distorted the computer science pioneer’s real personality and misrepresented the work of the cryptanalysts who cracked the Enigma code.

The Martin Luther King biopic Selma has also been criticised for its 'grievous historical flaws' (Paramount Pictures)

The portrayal of Turing’s homosexuality was “monstrous hogwash”, transforming “the real Turing, vivacious and forceful, into just the sort of mythological gay man, whiney and weak, that homophobes love to hate.”

However Caryl doesn’t go so far as to suggest that “The movie should be ruled out this Christmas and during the ensuing awards season”, an injunction which an op-ed piece in The Washington Post recommends should be imposed against Selma, the US civil rights drama starring David Oyelowo as Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

The film contends that President Lyndon B. Johnson was obstructive towards the civil rights movement and was reluctantly drawn into supporting the aims of Dr King’s epic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery.

In his article Joseph A. Califano Jr, a former senior domestic aide to President Lyndon Johnson, said the films historical flaws were so grievous that Selma should be withdrawn from awards contention.

The marches were actually “L.B.J.’s idea,” Califano Jr wrote, citing a transcript of a phone call two months before the campaign in which Johnson urged Dr King to generate white political support for a voting rights bill by travelling to the South’s most recalcitrant regions and getting images of racist brutality widely circulated in the news media.

Apple TV+ logo

Watch Apple TV+ free for 7 days

New subscribers only. £8.99/mo. after free trial. Plan auto-renews until cancelled

Try for free
Apple TV+ logo

Watch Apple TV+ free for 7 days

New subscribers only. £8.99/mo. after free trial. Plan auto-renews until cancelled

Try for free

Ava DuVernay, Selma director, hit back on Twitter, calling the idea that the marches were Johnson’s idea “jaw dropping and offensive'” to the “black citizens who made it so.”

“Bottom line is folks should interrogate history. Don’t take my word for it or LBJ rep’s word for it. Let it come alive for yourself,” she wrote, heightening anticipation for the film, which goes on general US release next week.

The bad-mouthing is all good, clean pre-Oscars fun, argued Variety. “It’s become a maxim of awards season that only those films that are serious contenders get smear campaigns, so perhaps these attacks are actually a good sign for the studios,” the film industry bible said.

“And there are sure to be more complaints to come, especially considering how many fact-based films are in the running this year, with a flurry typically just before the Feb. 6 start of Oscar final balloting.”

Complaints over factual inaccuracies had not harmed 12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips and The Dallas Buyers Club last year. “It’s worth reminding Califano, Caryl and everyone else: A narrative film is not a documentary or a historical record. It’s a movie,” Variety said. “Dramatists have taken liberty with historical facts since Shakespeare.”

“Some victims have stated, off the record, that they have proof the mudslinging was started by a rival. If they do have proof, they should go on the record this year,” Variety said.

“Last year, the real Philomena Lee (whose 50-year search for her forcibly adopted son was dramatised in Stephen Frears’ Oscar-nominated film) put things into perspective. When asked about accuracy, she shrugged and smiled that Philomena strayed from facts, ‘but it’s a movie, so that’s all right.’”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in