From the advent of cinema, Hollywood’s acquaintance with the unbridled
truth has been passing, at best. Nonfiction has always been standard
fodder for filmmakers, but rare is the screenwriter who ever met a story
that couldn’t use a touch of embellishment. As early as the silent film
era, lawsuits were filed against movie studios for their fictitious
depictions of purportedly real events. The moviemakers claim artistic
license; as Picasso said, "Art is a lie that tells the truth." When the
lie and the truth become inextricably mixed, the effect on the lives of
the people involved can be dramatic, even devastating.
The first lawsuit claiming a libelous onscreen portrayal of a real person
was filed in 1916, and the debate about filmmakers’ responsibilities when
depicting real people and events has raged ever since. This examination
of fact-based films and the law begins with a history of the legal issues
surrounding the fictionalization of real events and people. The court
case over The Perfect Storm—a film that spawned lawsuits from the
families of the people depicted in the film—is then explored in depth.
The next chapter analyzes fact versus fiction in 13 courtroom dramas,
movies for which court documents provide clear historical records. A
chapter devoted to actors so identified with a character that they sought
legal acknowledgment of exclusive rights to that fictional persona
follows. Notes, a bibliography and an index accompany the text.