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
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1615 GMT (0015 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1728 GMT (0128 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT