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How Accurate Was The Depiction Of The Vietnam War In 'Forrest Gump'?

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.

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  • No ‘Forrest Gump’ Scenes Were Shot In Vietnam

    No ‘Forrest Gump’ Scenes Were Shot In Vietnam
    Photo: Paramount

    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.

  • Gump’s Division Was Really Deployed To Vietnam For Five Years

    Gump’s Division Was Really Deployed To Vietnam For Five Years
    Photo: Paramount

    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.

  • Many Believe The Ambush Scene Is Handled Well

    Many Believe The Ambush Scene Is Handled Well
    Photo: Paramount

    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.

  • Ping-Pong Diplomacy Was A Real Thing

    Ping-Pong Diplomacy Was A Real Thing
    Photo: Paramount

    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.

  • Student Protests Were A Bigger Deal In Real Life

    Student Protests Were A Bigger Deal In Real Life
    Photo: Paramount

    Although Forrest Gump doesn’t completely skim past student protests during the Vietnam War, it doesn’t tackle them head on either. Many critics believe Forrest Gump overly simplifies important historical events - especially anti-war protests.

    The film largely ignores the violent clashes between protestors and the police. Forrest Gump also downplays how the movement was supported in the latter stages by actual Vietnam veterans and even Martin Luther King Jr.

  • The Guy With The American Flag Shirt Was A Real Anti-War Activist

    The Guy With The American Flag Shirt Was A Real Anti-War Activist
    Photo: Paramount

    Upon his return from Vietnam, Gump delivers a brief (and entirely inaudible) speech to anti-war protesters in front of the Lincoln Memorial in DC. After his speech, a strange-looking hippie wearing an American flag shirt walks up to Gump to congratulate him.

    Not only did the Lincoln Memorial rally actually happen with over 100,000 protestors, the American-flag wearing man is real, too. His name is Abbie Hoffman, and he was a big deal in the anti-war protest scene during the 1960s and ‘70s.