If you think you are fairly thorough with history and lives of major historical figures because you watch a lot of historical dramas and epics produced by Hollywood and Bollywood, you might be in for a surprise here. Filmmakers often portray history to suit their intentions of making their movies more grandeur, dramatic and to make more money for them, which results in distorted history and this practice is more rampant than you would like to believe.
Though the list of such movies where major historical figures have been grossly misrepresented can go on, here are six of them. These movies twisted the original facts to suit their agenda.
1. King Leonidas and the Spartans in 300
Zack Snyder’s historical movie 300, released in the year 2007 is one of the most magnificent of historical movies ever made in terms of storytelling, cinematography, and actions. But the movie is also guilty of grossly misrepresenting King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans. To begin with, there were not just 300 men fighting for Sparta against two millions fighting for Persia. It is believed that the Greek forces were as high as 7000 fighters and the Persian army was never in millions and it was not only Spartans vs. Persians but the Spartans had teamed up with other kingdoms for the battle of Thermopylae.
The movie portrayed Persians as barbaric monsters and the Spartans as the good guys when in fact Persian society held high values for human rights, their soldiers were well trained and had great respect for Greek culture. Also, in the movie King Leonidas completes his coming-of-age test by killing a wolf alone when in reality, the test for coming-of-age in the Spartan society was to kill a slave without getting caught.
2. Alan Turing in The Imitation Game
When The Imitation Game came out in theaters in 2015, historians were quick to criticize the numerous inaccuracies that the movie carried, especially about the character of Alan Turing, the central figure of the movie.
Unlike how the movie portrayed Turing, he wasn’t extremely awkward around people and failed to understand humour. Rather he was quite a warm and funny personality around his friends and a darling of children. He didn’t also try to keep his sexuality closely guarded though it was illegal at that time. By the end of the movie, it was shown that the police were after him because of suspicion of espionage, but in reality, he wasn’t ever a suspect of espionage but they were after him because of his sexuality.
He wasn’t also the sole inventor of the machine that broke the Enigma code, but he built it with another mathematician Gordon Welchman who wasn’t shown in the movie. Finally, the movie declared that Turing committed suicide at the age of 41 years when in reality, the case of his death isn’t so clear. The investigation was done so poorly that even if he was murdered, nobody would know.
3. Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network
The movie The Social Network starts with a falsehood that Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook after being dumped by a girl when in reality there was no such motivation behind the creation of Facebook. Mark maintained in many of his interviews that throughout the inception and growth of the social networking giant, he was dating a single girl whom he ultimately married.
The movie made him look like an ill-mannered and cruel person which many people who know Mark personally thoroughly deny and blame the movie for putting Mark in bad light unnecessarily. The film also omitted to mention that Eduardo was constantly partying in New York while Mark worked building a company alone. Facebook was cash-starved in the beginning while Eduardo stayed away in New York. The situation was so bad that Mark and his family had to take loans for servers. So, showing Eduardo as a victim and Mark as the bad guy wasn’t really correct.
4. Commodus in The Gladiator
Ironically, the Oscar winning movie The Gladiator, which was one of the first successful movies of the 21st century, is also perhaps one of the most historically inaccurate movies ever. Though it made good money at the box office, it all came at the cost of facts. While the character of Maximus in the movie was fiction and could not be judged on the purview of written history, it but totally distorted the character of Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus or simply referred as Commodus.
At the beginning of the film, it was shown that Commodus murdered his father Emperor Marcus Aurelius after learning that his father was planning to make Rome a republic. It was simply inaccurate. Firstly, he was already a co-Emperor of Rome with his father for three years before the death of his father in 180 AD. Secondly, he didn’t murder his father but he died during a military campaign.
Commodus of real life was also immensely crueler than how the movie portrayed him. He used to derive thrill by killing animals and disabled Romans pretending to be Hercules. In the movie, he was killed in the arena by Maximus, but in real life, he was poisoned by one of his many mistresses. When he survived, one of her accomplices killed him in a bath. Understandably, he had made many enemies during his regime.
5. Ashoka in Aśoka
It is generally believed that it was the War of Kalinga in 262 BCE that filled Emperor Ashoka’s heart with remorse and guilt which eventually led to his inclination towards Buddhism. But what is most often overlooked is the fact that Kaurvaki, one of the four wives of Ashoka was a major influence on him to convert to Buddhism, and unlike how the 2001 epic Aśoka tried to portray Kaurvaki as a Kalinga princess, she was actually a fisherwoman and a Buddhist by religion. It is also believed that she was abducted by Ashoka unlike the love story shown in the movie in which Asoka was shown chasing her in forests and fields like a Bollywood hero.
According to Mahavansa and Dipavansa, Ashoka killed 99 of his brothers to ascend to the throne including Sushim, who was the legal heir, but the film presented Sushim as evil who wanted to kill Ashoka but got killed instead by Ashoka’s bodyguard. There was no mention of the whereabouts of the other brothers.
He was also represented in the movie as soft and romantic when in reality he was a sadist and had built a torture chamber known as Ashoka’s Hell where he used to torture prisoners in the most inhumane ways possible.
6. Alauddin Khilji in Padmaavat
While the 2018 movie Padmavaat was marred with controversy before it got released on the allegations that Queen Padmavati would be shown in ways that would be contrary to historical facts and thus would be an attack on Rajput valor, what the movie actually distorted and no one seemed to care about was how Alauddin Khilji was represented in the film.
In the film, Khilji was depicted as an uncivilized savage who would roam barechested wearing an unkempt hair chasing women which was as much removed from the reality as possible. Historians argue that Khilji could be a cruel person, but he wasn’t certainly a maniac and savage as the movie portrayed. His kingdom followed the conducts and etiquette of the Persia. Also, all the paintings of him from his time show him in refined royal attires.
Historians believe that unlike how that movie showed, Khilji wasn’t someone who would go on war for a woman but he was an expansionist and expanding his territory was all that mattered.