This season, we’re going to be looking at the general theme of rebels and rebellions, revolutionaries and revolts, insurrectionists and traitors, freedom fighters and patriots.
All of these are terms that have come up a lot over the past year, particularly since January 6th, 2021. So we’re going to take a long look at how Hollywood responded to contemporary events in the 20th and 21st centuries by retelling the stories of rebels and revolutionaries, and the rebellions and revolutions they were part of.
Along the way, we’ll also be exploring what gets called a revolution, and who gets counted as a revolutionary. Spoiler alert – sometimes those labels are compliments and sometimes they’re accusations.
The Adams Family
In our first episode, we compare and contrast the HBO prestige miniseries John Adams, which solemnly recounts the life of our founding father and second president, and the History Channel miniseries Sons of Liberty, which reshaped revolutionary history into an action-packed adventure tale starring his cousin, Sam.
History from Below
In episode two we continue to examine the American Revolution, but we look at two series that focus less on the famous Founding Fathers and, instead, highlight the experiences of “ordinary people” people forced to negotiate fast-moving and complex events. They are Turn: Washington’s Spies and The Book of Negroes . We really want to emphasize how Turn and The Book of Negroes bring the stories of ordinary people to life, but in very different ways.
Revolution! The Musical
In this third and final episode on the American Revolution, we look at the momentous events through an entirely different genre – the musical. As Lin-Manuel Miranda stated about his ground breaking Hamilton!, “This is a story about America then, told by America now.” But, before he came along there was 1776, a musical and later film made in the shadow of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.
¡Viva La Revolucion!
On the theme of “covering the revolution”, we first take on two films that drop us in the middle of Latin America at the beginning of a bloody new chapter of the Cold War – Oliver Stone’s Salvador (1986) and Roger Spottiswoode’s Under Fire (1983). Both communicate the the early 1980s zeitgeist concerning revolutionary turmoil in El Salvador and Nicaragua. They also leave us overly romantic portraits of journalists “under fire”.
“Westerners do not have answers anymore.”
In this episode we cover Australian director Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) and the unforgettable docudrama The Killing Fields (1984), directed by Roland Joffe, which came out in 1984. The Year of Living Dangerously recreates Indonesia’s descent into revolution and genocide in the mid-1960s. The Killing Fields centers on the real-life ordeal of Dith Pran, Cambodian journalist and interpreter for New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg during the Cambodian genocide.
Votes for Women . . . And More!
In this episode we cover popular representations of the women’s suffrage movement and the more prolonged and incomplete struggle for equal rights. The vote was just the start, and Hollywood loves that story, but what about the rest? We break down Iron Jawed Angels (2004), Suffragette (2015), and the FX miniseries Mrs. America (2020)
Workers of the World Unite!
Is history always a story of progress? Not in the case of workers’ rights. We examine different cinematic representations of the struggle for unions and safe conditions. First, we have John Sayles indepedent film Matewan (1987). Next, Martin Ritt’s Norma Rae (1979), and finally, Mike Nichols’ Silkwood (1983)
Back in the USSR
Dr. Zhivago (1956) and Reds (1981) humanize and problematize the Bolshevik Revolution during periods when the Cold War was particularly intense. When and why these films were made are as fascinating as the stories they tell. In our final episode of season two, we examine how the two iconic films push back against prevailing Western interpretations of the Bolshevik Revolution