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 5:22 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
updated 1:28 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
updated 6:10 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
updated 5:33 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT