Culture Clips: How True Are ‘Based on a True Story’ Movies?

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We’ve seen it many times at the outset of a movie: “Based on a True Story.” And if you’re taking a careful look at what’s in multiplexes this week, you might notice that many films being screened right now deliver a version of that statement.

Stronger, which opened last week and rolls wider this week, stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Boston Bombing survivor  Jeff Bauman. In advance of its Toronto Film Festival premiere recently, Bauman said on Facebook, “When I saw Stronger the first time I was scared. It was a tough experience. You know why? It was so accurate. They got everything right.”

Meanwhile, three other films opening this week are also based on true events. American Made stars Tom Cruise as a former airline pilot who gradually becomes a drug smuggler for Columbian cartels while he’s also spying for the CIA and smuggling guns into Nicaragua. The Independent’s Clarisse Loughrey examines the real story here.

And what about Battle of the Sexes, the dramatization of 1973’s famous tennis match between Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs? King, now 73, told USA Today, “I’d say 99% of it they got right.”

Victoria and Abdul explores the relationship between Queen Victoria and an Indian Muslim servant in her court, Abdul Karim. The movie is based on the 2010 book Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant, by Shrabani Basu, who talked at length with Time about how difficult it was to unearth accurate information about the pair’s fascinating and unusual friendship.

Those films and other summer movies just out of theaters or nearing the end of their runs—Dunkirk, Wind River, All Saints, The Glass Castle, Detroit, The Big Sick, Megan Leavey, All Eyez on Me and Rebel in the Rye—are all featured at the website History vs. Hollywood, which strives to unpack how accurate cinematic stories like these really are.

Elsewhere this week, new research indicates that having a best friend as a teen can pay surprising dividends well into adulthood, including a possible reduction in anxiety and depression as well as a stronger sense of self-worth.

The Barna Group, meanwhile, recently looked at the changing ways teens are spending their time after school—time that’s increasingly dominated by technology and smartphone usage.

And over the last couple of weeks, more than a few of those teens have apparently gone to see IT (now the highest-grossing R-rated horror movie of all time). Despite its restrictive rating, the Hollywood Reporter has dubbed it a “teen sensation,” with 21% of ticket sales in the horror flick’s second weekend going to 13- to 17-year-olds. (Which begs questions about parental involvement and lax theater rules.) The industry trade mag also notes that teens also flocked to other R-rated horror films over the last couple of years as well, such as Annabelle: Creation and The Conjuring 2.

ComScore box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian said of that trend, “Teens are fickle. Their tastes in music, clothing and entertainment change like the weather, and as elusive—and distracted —as they have been as an audience, horror has been and will remain the genre that pulls them to the multiplex like moths to a flame. The communal experience of the movie theater creates a bonding ritual among teens like no other, and when the movie has an R-rated sensibility with language and situations that resonate in a real world, and not in a condescending homogenized Hollywood way, teens respond.”

Our next news item might well seem like a horror story to fans of HGTV’s enormously popular show Fixer Upper: Stars Chip and Joanna Gaines have announced that the show will be coming to an end after five seasons. But as fans shed a tear or two, keep in mind the couple’s message on their website, in which they talked about wrapping the series up in order to focus on their family and their marriage.

They wrote, “This has been an amazing adventure! We have poured our blood, sweat and tears into this show. We would be foolish to think we can go and go and fire on all cylinders and never stop to pause. Our family is healthy and our marriage has honestly never been stronger. This has nothing to do with a fraudulent skincare line or anything else you’ll inevitably read. This is just us recognizing that we need to catch our breath for a moment. Our plan is to take this time to shore up and strengthen the spots that are weak, rest the places that are tired and give lots of love and attention to both our family and our businesses.”

Another show that recently came to an end was ABC’s popular series Last Man Standing. Though the network denies that the cancelation had anything to do with its comedic star’s conservative politics, Tim Allen himself isn’t so sure.

Finally, a tragic TV-related story this week has to do with the Netflix show Narcos, which focuses on the world of ’80s Columbian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. A Mexican location scout for the series, Carlos Munoz Portal, was recently found dead in his bullet-riddled car in a dangerous and remote area northwest of Mexico City. The murder prompted the show’s star, Pedro Pascal, to suggest shutting down production if those involved with the realistic series can’t be guaranteed protection: “We can’t do it if it’s not safe,” Pascal said. “We’re talking about lives.”

None other than Pablo Escobar’s brother, Roberto De Jesus Escobar Gaviria, commented, “Netflix should provide hitmen to their people as security.” He also argued that any depiction of his brother’s story needed to be vetted by the Escobar family. “I don’t want Netflix or any other film production company to film any movies in Medellin or Colombia that relates to me or my brother Pablo without authorization from Escobar Inc. It is very dangerous. Especially without our blessing. This is my country.”

The family has demanded $1 billion from Netflix for depicting Pablo Escobar in the series. “Netflix are scared. They sent us a long letter to threaten us,” said Gaviria. “Right now, we are in discussions with them through our attorneys Browne George Ross LLP to obtain our $1 billion payment. If we don’t receive it, we will close their little show.”

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous 6 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

Okay, so I do love a good true story movie (like Patriots Day), and I I also really enjoy a 'realistic' action movie (like The Dark Knight or Rogue One), but most of the time, when I go to the movies, I go so that I can escape real life for a few hours, not to be reminded of it.

The fact that teens resonate with 'realistic' R rated flicks with 'realistic' language and young adult situations is depressing for me. I hear enough adult language at my work! Why would I want to hear that in a movie that I want to have fun with?
SJamison 6 months ago
Perhaps because teens are so constrained from using "adult" language when they would like to, they are less weary of it than you or I.   
bobed 6 months ago
Tim Allen may well be right. As anyone knows, Hollywood hates conservatism. 
charitysplace 6 months ago
You should see the letter Netflix's lawyers sent a bar with a month-long "STRANGER THINGS" theme. It's hilarious, epic, and tolerant of the violated copyright. I think, on the whole, Netflix will do right by their people.