Movies based on historical events must always pass through the Award Season Truth Squad, which parses the dramatic license filmmakers take and, without considering the aims of said alterations, passes judgment.
We haven't (yet) heard any complaints about "Foxcatcher," "American Sniper" or "Unbroken," but Joseph Califano, a former senior aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson, has vented his anger over Ava DuVernay's civil rights drama "Selma." In a guest editorial published in the Washington Post, Califano assailed "Selma" for falsely portraying Johnson as being at odds with King and not giving Johnson enough credit for the Selma voting rights march. ("Selma was LBJ's idea," Califano writes.)
Now, I'm no expert. Most of what I know about LBJ comes from reading reviews of Robert Caro's landmark biography of Johnson. But to say Selma was LBJ's idea seems a stretch, even to Califano, who refutes his own claim later in the column as he lays out the chronology of the events. All in all, it's a pretty loopy piece of writing, capped off by an odd call to arms: "The movie should be ruled out this Christmas and during the ensuing awards season."
When, exactly, did the 83-year-old Califano start following "awards season" so intensely? It doesn't smell like something an 83-year-old former Washington insider would write. But then, we know from experience that not everyone comes up with their own material this time of year.
And while we're asking questions, how about this: Why would a black filmmaker like DuVernay need to lionize LBJ in her civil rights movie? Can't Califano just go and watch "Mississippi Burning" again and let the rest of us have a movie where in which people aren't relegated to the sidelines of history?