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Front Runner Causing Controversy

I have not seen the movie “The Front Runner” but I plan to. It was behind Creed II on my list of must see movies. And this is an aside, but Creed II is almost as good as Creed, which is high praise. I love that the Rocky franchise lives on.

But back to “The Front Runner.” The film is a fact based account of Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential run and his downfall when revelations about his relationship with Donna Rice came to light.  Those revelations came to light largely due to the efforts of the Miami Herald and reporter Tom Fiedler. But now Fiedler is complaining that the movie unfairly demonizes him and fails to take into account that his reporting was accurate.

Fiedler is the latest in a long line of real life people who find themselves “fictionalized” in movies. Occasionally, this happens to dead people, who may not get to tell their side of the story. Vivian Cash, Johnny Cash’s first wife, who was inaccurately portrayed as kind of a shrew in “Walk the Line” had died by the time the film premiered.

Jack Dunn, on the other, hand, was very much alive when the movie “Spotlight” falsely implied that he was part of a cover up of priest sexual abuse as a trustee at Boston College High School. Dunn sued the film makers and eventually settled his claim.

There is no indication whether Fiedler will sue the makers of “The Front Runner.” I suspect he won’t. But all of these examples demonstrate the conundrum filmmakers face, I suppose when making a dramatized film about historical events. While the event may be historic, it may not be all that dramatic. In “Remember the Titans,” T.C. Williams High School wins the state championship game on a last second walk off touchdown. In real life, they won easily, 27-0.  So, in that case, I’ll take a little dramatic license.

But if the dramatic license actually changes history in a way that falsely portrays a real life participant’s role that’s just different. If Jack Dunn actually tried to expose the abuse at Boston College High School, he ought not be portrayed as being part of the cover up.

The cases in the middle though raise the tougher question about how to handle nuance. What if the film suggests someone is a villain, without directly altering the facts? Fiedler’s complaint seems to fall in this category – it’s a matter of tone and emphasis. Which is frustrating, but makes for a tougher case. Fiedler has no doubt gotten mad, but in this case, he’s probably not going to be able to get even.