Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Stop fact-checking the movies

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
October 14, 2013 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
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
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT