U.S. History in Film

Prof. McClurken’s HIST 329 — Fall 2008


I believe Glory has to fail as a “historical film”.  It is clear the movie sets out to become a historical drama, but it falls short and becomes a drama set in history instead.

The positive aspects of the Glory’s accuracy demonstrate the producer’s interest in making a historical film.  The subject initially seems more dedicated to the story of the 54th, rather than a story about men in the unit.  The film’s portrayal of daily life seems accurate.  Camp life as portrayed in the movie is very similar to that portrayed in our readings.  The film’s action sequences do a fair job of putting viewers in the war experience.  I have read that Glory’s battle of Antietam was the gold standard of its time for portraying a Civil War era battle, and deservingly so.

These things aside, Glory fails as a historical film because it falls into the trap of drama.  It is evident that the producers felt compelled to bend the truth for the sake of a story.  The movie’s own box description calls it “Loosely based on the letters of Col. Robert G. Shaw, this Academy Award-winning war film follows the first group of African-Americans to serve in cobat during the Civil War.”  We know the Massachussetts 54th was not the first African-American group formed, we know it was not the first to see combat.  It was simply the group most enamering to the press.  The film therefore, grabbed hold of a drama witha  certain degree of truth to it.  As I stated in the class wiki, it is also problematic that the film created Thomas’ character.  He was not needed to demonstrate the experience of an educated black man in the unit.  Real historical figures could have done that.  Thomas is simply there to create a character relationship between Shaw and one of his soldiers.  I strongly believe that this demonstrates the film producer’s dedication to entertainment over fact.

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