Digital Culture

Don’t Get It Twisted… / The Biopic Movie and Its Legitimacy on Our Screens

Picture Credit: Mohammed_Hassan from Pixabay

By Isabelle Merralls

‘Austin Butler as Elvis’, ‘Gemma Arterton as Dusty Springfield’, ‘Timothee Chalamet as Bob Dylan’, and ‘Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston’. These are just a few movie biopics hitting the screens over the coming years. 

The influx of biopic films has grown exponentially across the last decade, with many gaining awards and critical acclaim. As fewer ‘original’ films are being released and more biopics are being created it begs the question: is Hollywood running out of ideas? 

Biographical films offer the dramatisation of the life of a non-fictional or historically-based person or group of people. A personal favourite of mine is the 2018 biopic Bohemian Rhapsody which became the highest-grossing music biopic of all time. Having always enjoyed the music of Queen, I was overjoyed by the release of the film which tracks the career of Freddie Mercury. 

After watching, I decided to research further into the events dramatised on screen and was surprised to find out how many details were fabricated to enhance the screenplay. For example, the band did not break up in the years leading up to the infamous Live Aid show.

Is it important for biopics to stay 100% true to life?

Despite it being incredibly important to accurately portray the biography of the titular character, diminishing historical accuracy allows writers to create a story that is more appealing to audiences. 

It is much more enjoyable for viewers of The Social Network (2010) to believe that Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook in an attempt to win back his girlfriend when in reality he was already dating his now-wife. It is a small lie that aids the narrative trajectory and allows for an easy-to-follow structure. 

With many of these biopics focusing on historical figures who are already deceased or have a lack of historiography, writers are able to take creative liberties to construct a narrative that appeals to audiences without the contestment of the titular figure. For example, Braveheart (1995) explores a love affair between the 13th-century Scottish Knight William Wallace and Princess Isabella. With limited historical information, accuracy is impossible, – the romantic interest herself was only an infant at the time.

While some biopics have had critical acclaim, others have received backlash from the real-life people themselves. NFL player Michael Oher has criticised his depiction in the 2009 biographical drama The Blind Side, stating that the timid and introverted depiction of his character is a far cry him from his confident demeanour. Oher also believes that the racial tensions were mystified and could have been explored in greater depth. Despite being nominated for two Academy Awards, the film itself lacks the accuracy which represents the events. 

With the 2022 Oscars having three out of the five Best Actor nominees from a biopic, the genre is well established within the film industry. With even more biopic films gracing our screens, is it time to move away from the genre? Especially as screenplays start to stray further and further from the real-life events they portray… 

I, for one, will make sure to fact-check my favourite biopics!