"The Biography Genre brings a life story to the silver screen."
The Biography Genre has been a literary genre for many years. As a film genre it's popularity got started after 1980. In the world of film it is also referred to as a "biopic." Not really the same as an "historical" film or a "true story" movie, this genre strives to effectively tell the story of someone's life. Its not just the facts either, but a journey through personal and intimate details which are squarely focused on the film's subject(s).
This film style has become so popular that the A&E (Arts & Entertainment) Network actually created a "biography" channel for airing biopics exclusively. These A&E Biographies are without doubt some of the most well produced biopics ever.
An Autobiography (or Autobiographical Film) is one where the actual subject tells their own story. Sometimes called an "Autobiopic," these films are basically "self-documentaries."
Biographies are most often created about famous or very important people of the time. A refreshing and recent trend in biographical filmmaking is using less obvious, or even infamous figures as subjects for films. Films like The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), Monster (2003) and Blow (2001) are recent examples of this new direction.
Charlize Theron in "Monster"
Beginning in 1980 and on, biographical films became ever more popular due largely to better film technology, allowing for improved re-creation of different time periods. The genre's popularity was also boosted by the critical success of films such as Frida (2002), Ali (2001) and Man on the Moon (1999).
One of the huge and ongoing issues with films in the biography genre is the overall honesty and accuracy displayed on the screen. Despite high audience expectations of truth and accuracy this has not always been the case. Liberties have certainly been taken over the years by altering events to make them more dramatic, or to make them better fit the overall story. In some cases, time itself has been compressed to keep a story's timeline more exciting.
Many of these theatrical "stretching's" of biographical truth have resulted in lawsuits against film biographers. For example, a team of Greek Lawyers threatened to sue the producers of Alexander (2004) for implying that Alexander the Great was in fact bisexual. Boxing fans were enraged when Max Baer was portrayed as a villain in Cinderalla Man (2005).
The Hurricane (1999) is responsible for several incidents concerning the movie's overall accuracy. Firstly, there was a dispute concerning Boxer Rubin Carter's controversial triple murder conviction. Secondly, Middle Weight Champion Joey Giardello sued the filmmakers over the insinuation that his defeat of Rubin Carter was the result of a "racist fix." All this hullabaloo over the film caused Chicago Tribune Film Critic Roger Ebert to state, "...those who seek the truth about a man from the film of his life might as well seek it from his loving grandmother...The Hurricane is not a documentary but a parable."
Denzel Washington as "The Hurricane"
Four other films where creative license was taken were Confessions of a Dangerous Man (2002) where the Gong Show's Chuck Barris claims to be a CIA Agent, They Died With Their Boots On (1941) where the story of General Custer is romanticized, Nixon (1995) where actor Anthony Hopkins bears no physical resemblance to the ex-president and Selena (1997) where folks objected to Jennifer Lopez, who is from Puerto Rico, playing Selena, who herself was from Mexico.
In any case I'm very thankful we have the Biography Genre in the world of filmmaking. If this genre means something special to you or you have a great story about one of these films we'd love to hear about it. Please consider sharing your story with us below.
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