Cinematic retelling: Keeping history alive
By Sarah O'Byrne | Sep 19 2018History has always been written by the victors. Almost every single battle, competition and rivalry has been documented on film at this point. Usually featuring a white, heterosexual male lead, these films are created mainly as Oscar bait, as well as to supplement learning in Junior Certificate history when the teacher has a gap in the curriculum. But what about minorities who have overcome difficulties and emerge triumphant? If it weren’t for cinema, we may never have even known their names.Without films like Pride (2014), events surrounding the LGBTQ community may never be acknowledged. Pride follows a group of young people in 1980s England who, after seeing the abuse the miners are receiving from the police, and seeing how this aligns with their own struggles, decide to set up L.G.S.M. (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners). However, they face obstacles when the occupants of the small Welsh mining town are split on whether or not to accept their donation.Likewise, Made in Dagenham (2010) explores an equally overlooked victory in Britain. It takes place in - you guessed it - 1960s Dagenham, and follows the fictional Rita as she leads the other female workers in a not-so-fictional strike at the Ford Dagenham plant in an effort to gain equal pay for women. Filmmakers will often use notable names to attract attention to their film, and Made in Dagenham is no exception. The film was produced just two years after Sally Hawking’s critically acclaimed role in Happy-Go-Lucky (2008), which transformed her into a bankable star. Without using prominent stars like Hawkins, Bob Hoskins and Rosamund Pike, a film about an easily unnoticed strike would never have earned $12.3 million at the box office. The tagline of Made in Dagenham, “an ordinary woman achieves something extraordinary”, perfectly sums up the aim of these films. Both Pride and Made in Dagenham are about mundane people who accomplish a great feat. It is very likely that without Made in Dagenham, the deeds of these women would be swept under the rug, since the event was not deemed important enough to be included in school books. These are not just skimming-the-surface type films. Made in Dagenham also highlights the struggle of the middle class in the 1960s. Rita's son's teacher patronisingly asks if she is “from the estate” when she tries to complain about his corporal punishment, providing further context to the inner-workings of class dynamics at the time. Similarly, Pride examines the stigma against gay people in the 1980s, but also those infected with HIV. These films do not just explore the struggles of LGBTQ and female characters, but also that of further marginalised groups. More recent films, such as the Oscar nominated Hidden Figures (2016) and The Post (2017), examines the hidden contributions of women to major institutions. Without films like Hidden Figures, the labour of women of colour to the space race would go unrecognised. Hidden Figures tells the real-life story of three African-American women - Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) - who help NASA launch a man into space. The most recent example of this phenomenon in this article, The Post, brought the story of Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) to light, a woman who most likely would never have been heard of without seeing this film. Graham, the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, risked her career to uncover a long-held government secret. Although it was criticised for its use of clichés, The Post did earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture and Best Actress (Streep - obviously), and reminded the world of Katharine Graham’s legacy.Despite its criticisms, it is vital to note that clichés are essential for films like these. If these films didn’t use cinematic formulas, then they may never capture a broad audience, resulting in these historical events being lost and forgotten. The added dramatics help lend importance to the events as well as attract a wider audience. Be on the lookout for swelling music, sensational dance numbers or melodramatic and somewhat unrealistic climaxes. Pride even combines all three and has an honest to goodness spontaneous sing-along in the local community centre, reducing Andrew Scott to tears.If it weren’t for films like Pride, Made in Dagenham, Hidden Figures and The Post, these victories would be completely blotted out. Films like these bring niche history to the attention of the mainstream audience, and give them the recognition they deserve. If a film feels the need to resort to cheap laughs or a shoehorned fictional romance to capture the attention of the masses, then it is worth it if one more viewer becomes aware of the story of Katharine Graham, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and L.G.S.M., and other such admirable historical figures.