Historical dramas take liberties. Just look at They Died With Their Boots On, the George Custer biopic from 1941 that infamously ran amok with the facts. Custer's men at the Battle of Little Bighorn did indeed perish with their footwear intact, but other than that, the film's relationship with history is generally considered to be loose.
Or take Selma – some of the film's detractors really wish you would. The movie about Martin Luther King and the voting rights marches in Alabama he led in 1965 is earning critical raves, but its historical accuracy is the subject of great debate, particularly when it comes to the portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson (by Tom Wilkinson) as an antagonist of King rather than a partner.
"What's wrong with Hollywood?" asked Joseph Califano, in a Washington Post op-ed piece. According to Califano, the President's top assistant for domestic affairs in 1965, "Selma was LBJ's idea." In a tweeted response, Selma director Ava DuVernay fired back, arguing that Califano's assertion was "jaw dropping and offensive" to the black citizens who had organized the marches.
Julian E. Zelizer, the author of the new book The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress and the Battle for the Great Society, has surmised that the makers of Selma "obviously wanted to create a villain" in Johnson. On the other side, Gay Talese, a journalist who covered the events in Selma for The New York Times backed DuVernay: "She got it. I was there. I saw it. She wasn't there, but she got it."
Talese was speaking in New York at a Q&A event with DuVernay and others. Diplomatically, the director herself said that everyone "sees history through their own lens," and that she wasn't going to "argue history." But, then, she already has. In fact, it is her job to do so.