So you know how movies aren't real? The same goes for biopics. Nobody's perfect, and if all biopics presented totally accurate portrayals of their subjects, then we wouldn't have a lot of feel-good stories in Hollywood. Would anyone have wanted A Beautiful Mind to win the Best Picture Oscar if they thought Russell Crowe's character was a racist deviant? Wait. That actually literally happened. That wasn't a good example. But the truth stands: biopics have to cut corners to tell well-rounded stories, and it's often easier to leave out the less-appealing story beats. No one is going to get chills when they're told that their movie hero is a child molester.
Historical inaccuracies in Oscar-bait movies are nothing new, and the list of things biopics omitted for convenience ranges from ex-girlfriends to genocide. To be fair, not everyone on this list was mind-blowingly horrible to the people around them. Some were just portrayed in a mildly better light in order to etch out a clear-cut hero/villain narrative for dumbed down American audiences. Read on to see if that includes you.
History - and popular culture - remember the Tibetan monks as victims of Communist China's cruel mid-century takeover of Tibet. The reality is much more complicated. Before China invaded the Tibetans' homeland, the 'peaceful' monks often kept and tortured human slaves. They also overtaxed and mistreated most Tibetans under their rule.
Martin Scorsese's Kundun, which follows the life of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th and current Dalai Lama, paints Tibetans as nonviolent victims for the sake of story. Before the 1997 movie arrived, this myth had already been promulgated by the monks themselves in an effort to curry national favor.
Everyone, including the Oscar-winning Gandhi, assumes that Mahatma Gandhi was morally pristine because he was starving all the time. Not the case. As it turns out, the brave, peaceful hero of Colonial India was actually kind of a pervert. As a 'test' of his piety and purity, he would sleep next to young girls - including his grand-niece - and force himself not to touch them or become aroused.
This disrespect for women fell in line with his documented assertion that menstrual blood is a "manifestation of the distortion of a woman's soul by her sexuality." Oh and he also believed that black people are sub-human. But Ben Kingsley's acting (and brownface), tho.
There's no way that The Miracle Worker, a 1962 film about tutor Anne Sullivan teaching Helen Keller about friendship, self-confidence, and hope, was not going to make audiences feel good. Helen Keller is considered to be one of the most heroic people of all time, and for good reason: though blind and deaf from a young age, she went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts and inspire people across the country through lectures and writings.
Despite her own disadvantages, however, she still didn't believe that other disadvantaged people should be allowed to coexist with normal citizens. In the early 20th century, as the international public began to embrace eugenics - AKA the process of filtering out undesired traits from the gene pool through breeding and genetic experiments - Keller was one of the first to write:
"It is the possibility of happiness, intelligence and power that give life its sanctity, and they are absent in the case of a poor, misshapen, paralyzed, unthinking creature.”
She also added that allowing a "defective" child to die was simply a “weeding of the human garden that shows a sincere love of true life.”
Apparently, Helen Keller didn't want any competitors for the title of "most inspirational blind/deaf person in history."
The 1962 biopic, Birdman of Alcatraz, tells the story of the mild-mannered first-Leavenworth, then-Alcatraz prison inmate, Robert Stroud. In the film, Stroud, played by Burt Lancaster, is certainly rebellious (he's in prison for something, after all), but his overall tenor is one of care and affection; after all, he nurses and breeds sparrows and canaries in a specially designated area of the prison. In the film, Stroud's rebelliousness peaks in his penning of a critique of the US prison system.
In real life, though, this overwhelmingly gentle, mild-mannered version of Stroud is far from accurate. In fact, Stroud remained incredibly violent and aggressive throughout his prison sentence, and some of his fellow inmates have even characterized the film as a "comedy" because it's portrayal of Stroud is so far from the truth.
The real "Birdman of Alcatraz" once viciously assaulted a hospital orderly, stabbed a fellow inmate, and constantly created "chaos and turmoil and upheaval" while behind bars. Conveniently, most of this behavior didn't make the biopic.