The Intersection of Historical Memory, Hollywood, and Commercialism

This full-page advertisement appeared in the February 1991 issue of Ebony magazine.  There was clearly a resurgence of interest in the history of black Civil War soldiers following the release of Glory. Numerous articles/reviews of the movie can be found in Ebony and Jet magazines.

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11 comments… add one

  • Marianne Davis Jul 29, 2010

    Kevin,
    I understand that there has been controversy among professional historians as to the value of movies like “Glory” or the Ken Burns mini-series. Let me ask you where you come down on the question. Do the honest mistakes and dramatic license of works like these outweigh their value as history? Or do they spark enough interest in Civil War history among us laymen that historians might forgive their shortcomings?

    • Kevin Levin Jul 29, 2010
      • Marianne Davis Jul 29, 2010

        It doesn’t surprise me that you, and other teachers in command of the subject, might use films as a jumping off point for discussion. But you’re almost cheating me of an answer to my question. Most of us don’t see these works in a classroom, or with a trained historian. So let me ask in another way. Ken Burn’s “Civil War” has been seen by millions. Is that a good thing in that it creates for the lay viewer a picture of the time, or bad because it paints a flawed or incomplete picture?

        • Kevin Levin Jul 29, 2010

          I think most history enthusiasts embrace stories that are entertaining and told well. Honestly, I don’t know whether I am in a position to judge whether it’s good or bad. I can at least say that it’s much better than watching most of the crap that is on television today. Given the amount of misinformation online and in print I would say that Ken Burns holds up pretty well.

  • JMRudy Jul 29, 2010

    I first saw Glory with my parents on video in about 5th grade. Around my junior year, we watch Glory in American History class. It was a special edition VHS released by Pepsi for classrooms, sanitized down to a PG level. The most notable cut was the exploding head at Antietam. Otherwise, there wasn’t much noticeable. It appears that Pepsi was a big sponsor/advertiser of the film across the board.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 29, 2010

      What…no exploding head? :(

  • Matt McKeon Jul 29, 2010

    In my classroom, heads are constantly exploding.

    Any video production, or book for that matter, is going to be flawed, have mistakes, etc.
    “Glory” is a wonderful film, but its a movie, a work of art, not history, and people watch it to be entertained or get the things you get from art.

    Burns may or may not emphasis the current or parochial interests of some historians(I always found the initial “Cause” section the weakest), but what is the alternative if you want to see a series on the Civil War? Nothing half so good. What I like about Burns is he made the point over and over again, hey war IT SUCKS.

  • Corey Meyer Jul 29, 2010

    One of the movie channels on Dish ran Glory last night. Brought back several good memories of my late teens, seeing the movie, reading an article about local reenactors who participated in the Antietam scenes and becoming a reenactor due to the movie.

    Ah…the good old days!

    • Kevin Levin Jul 29, 2010

      I interviewed three of the black reenactors a few years ago. At some point I hope to work my notes up into a post. It was interesting to hear how the movie changed the way they think about the Civil War. Many of those guys knew little or nothing about the story of the 54th before filming.

      • Corey Meyer Jul 29, 2010

        The movie came out at just the right time. I had a great history teacher during my junior year in high school and for some reason I centered on the Civil War…it may have been due to tracing my family history at the same time and learning that I had family in the war. I suppose the War made me love history more and more as I studied more and more…So instead of selling insurance with a degree in history I decided teaching was the way to go.

  • AmericanFilm Aug 11, 2010

    Marianne,
    Movies like “Glory” take us back to the roots of our national pride — perhaps film is the best medium to express history. It certainly adds an “entertainment” value that one may not get out of simply reading a historical biography. However, the real benefit of translating history to film (if it’s done well, as I believe “Glory” did) is that you are able to actually “witness history.”

    We completed a film that is premiering at the Toronto Film Festival called “The Conspirator” which tells the story of Mary Surratt, a woman charged with allowing John Wilkes Booth to stay at her inn. The entire goal of our company is to create completely historically accurate films, and you can find out more about us at http://www.TheAmericanFilmCompany.com/

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