Even decades after its original release, Forrest Gump remains a divisive film. Some see the movie as a classic American fable, while others believe Forrest Gump is garbage. Critics sometimes take issue with the portrayal of historical events in Forrest Gump, which some view as wildly inaccurate and even harmful.
Forrest Gump covers a huge swath of American history, but it’s the film’s middle section that garners some of the stiffest criticism. Gump’s experiences during the 1960s and ‘70s touch on a contentious era in American history: The Vietnam War.
Where critics land with their Forrest Gump Vietnam War analysis often determines their opinion of the movie as a whole. The question is whether the film paints an accurate portrayal of the events. In truth, Forrest Gump attempts to dramatize the cultural mood both at home in America and abroad in Vietnam with varied success.
Despite sporting a $55 million budget, Forrest Gump didn’t film a single scene in Vietnam. Forrest Gump’s entire Vietnam deployment was actually filmed on Fripp Island and Hunting Island State Park, off the coast of South Carolina.
To give South Carolina the look and feel of a war-torn Vietnamese jungle, filmmakers made extensive use of computer-generated graphics. The mountains in the background of Gump’s Vietnam scenes aren’t real - they’re the carefully crafted work of several animators.
When Gump deploys to Vietnam in 1967, he attaches to the 47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division. The 47th Infantry Regiment is a real United States Army regiment that’s been involved in multiple conflicts beginning with World War I.
Although these days the 47 Regiment is mostly involved with training new soldiers, they were deployed into Vietnam from 1966-1971. Forrest Gump may not have been a real infantryman, but his division is authentic.
It can fluctuate depending on who is asked, but Forrest Gump’s ambush scene is largely seen as accurate. Details vary, but the impact of the scene’s violence and chaos resonates with many Vietnam veterans.
Director Robert Zemeckis successfully captures the intensity of a surprise attack by the Viet Cong, though certain elements appear played up. For example, though Viet Cong did eventually gain access to mortar weapons, they weren’t used in a widespread way until the end of American involvement in the war.
Forrest Gump depicts a heavy dose of mortar fire during the ambush scene, however it seem likely Viet Cong attacks around that time would have focused more on small arms fire than full explosives.
One of the stranger scenes in Forrest Gump sees Gump facing off against a Chinese competitor in a tense game of ping-pong. Gump’s character states he began playing ping-pong as a way to cheer up the troops during the Vietnam War, but later he was sent to China as one of the first Americans to visit the country in “like a million years.”
While it isn’t true Americans hadn’t visited China in a million years before the 1970s, it had been over 20 years. President Richard Nixon believed it was important for America to establish better diplomatic ties with China, and the best way to do so was to play ping-pong with them.
Gump may not have realized the part he was playing in bringing China and America together, but Ping-Pong Diplomacy was an essential part of American diplomatic strategy during and following the Vietnam War.