Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Stop fact-checking the movies

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Mon October 14, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dean Obeidallah: Some popular films have come under attack for being loose with the facts
  • He says a film such as "Gravity" is clearly science fiction; no need to fact-check every point
  • Only documentary filmmakers are required to be true to the events they depict, he says
  • Obeidallah: Relax and enjoy films that take liberties to make story lines more compelling

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the co-director of the new comedy documentary "The Muslims Are Coming!" It was released this month. Follow him on Twitter @deanofcomedy.

(CNN) -- Can we simply enjoy movies without having to fact-check every little thing?

Apparently not, because so many people feel compelled to show us how clever they are by attempting to point out factual errors depicted in film after film.

News flash: Movies are supposed to be an entertaining experience. They are an escape from reality. If you want to learn history or facts, read a book. Or if you are too lazy to do that, then google it.

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

We have seen this self-aggrandizing spectacle of people fact-checking movies with two recent films. The first is the current box office champion, "Gravity," with the other being "The Butler."

"Gravity," which stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, follows a space mission that goes terribly awry. Despite its box office success, a chorus of critics have attacked numerous scientific flaws in the film -- such as pointing out the allegedly inaccurate way Bullock's hair floated in zero gravity.

But that's nothing compared to the recent barrage of Twitter attacks launched at the film by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. His tweets ranged from criticizing the direction space debris was depicted as travelling to more nuanced issues such as faulting filmmakers for showing that the Hubble Space Telescope, the International Space Station and a Chinese space station were, "all in sight lines of one another."

This is not the guy you want to sit next to in a movie theater during "Star Wars."

How realistic is 'Gravity'?

I can just hear him whispering things such as: "The Death Star is too big to fly at that rate of speed," or "Yoda could never survive in that atmosphere."

Look, "Gravity" doesn't even pretend to be based on anything more than the screenwriter's imagination. And here's the biggest thing for people like deGrasse Tyson to keep in mind: it's science fiction, for God's sake! You would think the "fiction" part of "science fiction" is something that an astrophysicist could comprehend.

And then there's "The Butler," the Lee Daniels film about a man who served for decades as a butler for various presidents at the White house.

This film was attacked by the left and the right for being historically inaccurate. Some have cited errors with the film's account of specific instances of the civil rights movement while others expressed outrage over the way President Ronald Reagan was depicted -- apparently some view Reagan as a deity.

Here's a spoiler alert (and by "spoiler alert," I mean a spoiler to people who have never googled or read anything about the film): It was fiction -- that means it was made up. There was no "Cecil Gaines," the butler character played by Forest Whitaker in the film. The film does not even purport to be a bio pic.

Sure, it was loosely inspired by the life of Eugene Allen, a man who served as a butler in the White House for 34 years for eight presidents, but the film was a fictionalized account.

And we saw similar obsessive fact-checking last year with movies such as "Argo" and "Lincoln." I guess we should be thankful that Twitter wasn't around when "Forrest Gump" was released because people would have gone crazy with tweets over that one.

Can we agree on something?

A director who is making a documentary should be required to present an accurate recitation of facts and history. But for all other movies, filmmakers should be afforded creative license to make the movie that fulfills their vision of the story they want to tell, even ones based on real events. Filmmakers are not historians, nor should they be held to such a standard.

Consequently, directors must be allowed to add scenes or dialogue that make the film more entertaining, such as the fictionalized depiction in "Argo" of American diplomats trying to board a plane to escape from Iran before they are discovered.

So here's my advice to all you self-appointed movie fact-checkers who are just waiting to pounce on any mistake you detect in a film to show off how clever you are: Relax.

Go to a movie, log off of Twitter, silence your phone, sit back, eat some overpriced cold popcorn that's part of the criminally expensive "value combo" and watch the film.

You never know -- you might just find that you actually enjoy it.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:24 PM EDT, Sat September 20, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT