A biopic, or a biographical motion picture, is a non-fictional movie based on real historical events or real-life stories of its main protagonists. They are not the same thing as the “historical drama movies” or the movies “based on a true story” because they are focused on one person’s life story, that person being the main character whose real name is used in the film.
And while biopics definitely show true-life stories of the central person in the film, they sometimes make the truth look just a little bit better than it actually was by leaving some terrible facts out. Nobody wants to know that their all-time favorite hero actually really enjoyed having sex with minors or that he had some major anger issues. It goes the other way too. Nobody wants to know that some horrible villain wasn’t actually the worst person in the world and that he had his good sides too. So why do they do it? Why do filmmakers leave out facts that would shed a different light on the whole character? Well, it’s actually quite simple. People prefer to have clean-cut heroes and/or villains in their stories. That’s just what we’re used to.
Here are 15 terrible true stories that biopics left out to make a person look better:
15. Lincoln – Left Out Abraham Lincoln’s Racist Side
This might come as a really big surprise but Abraham Lincoln – the President of the United States who fought for banning slavery – was actually a racist. The 2012 biopic Lincoln focuses on his struggles during the Civil War which was the result of his decision to emancipate the slaves and ban slavery in the US forever. However, the fact that he was anti-slavery doesn’t mean that he wasn’t a racist. He once wrote that there are some differences between the white and the black population that will make it impossible for the two races to co-exist in a world of social and political equality. His solution to this problem was to send the black population “back where they came from”. He probably wouldn’t be so thrilled to know that the 44th President of the USA was African-American.
14. The Iron Lady – Racism And Anti-LGBT Conveniently Left Out
The Iron Lady is a biopic about the longest-serving Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – Margaret Thatcher. She was portrayed by Meryl Streep who won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. The movie received mixed reviews since it focused mostly on the glory days of Thatcher’s reign and it left out some really unflattering facts. For example, the fact that the “Iron Lady” wasn’t really a big fan of non-straight and non-white people. In fact, she used to stigmatize the LGBT population in legislation and she used to make homophobic comments during her speeches. She had also triggered a wave of disapproval in Australia when she stated that it should block all immigration from Asia. Bob Carr, Australian foreign minister, called her “unabashedly racist”. Of course, none of that was mentioned in the movie.
13. The Miracle Worker – The One Against The Miracles
The Miracle Worker is a 1962 biopic capturing the story of Annie Sullivan who was hired by the Keller family to tutor young Helen Keller. Helen was deaf, mute, and blind since infancy and her inability to communicate led her to anger, frustration, and violence. Today, Hellen Keller is considered to be one of the most heroic people ever because she managed to overcome her physical obstacles, she earned a degree in arts, and she became an author, lecturer, and political activist. However, there was one big paradox to her story left out from the biopic. She was very pro-eugenics (the process of removing undesired traits from the gene pool). She didn’t believe that disabled people should coexist with the rest of the population and she stated that people should think about letting disabled children die simply as a way of weeding the garden of the human population.
12. Remember The Titans – But Remember Them Differently
Remember the Titans is a biopic following the story of an African-American coach and the tension between his team members based on their racial differences. Coach Herman Boone was portrayed as a hero who managed to bring the players together and overcome their prejudice. His work was reflected in the town which turned into a peaceful unity of people proud of the Titans. However, after the movie was released, a lot of Boone’s coworkers and former team members have spoken about the true Herman Boone – a man who treated everyone horribly and whose coaching style involved a lot of physical and verbal abuse. Eventually, he was forced to leave the school because the coaching staff, as well as his players, turned against him and his terrible behavior.
11. Birdman Of Alcatraz – Without The Sociopath Part
Birdman of Alcatraz is a story about Robert Strout, a convicted murderer who was portrayed as a gentle, misunderstood soul who managed to give his life new meaning by collecting birds in his prison cell. The truth is, there was nothing really gentle about him. In fact, he was a complete sociopath who used to threaten other inmates for sex, he stabbed a couple of people in prison, and he especially enjoyed writing horrible stories about abducting, raping, and killing children. The moment he was forbidden from keeping the birds in his cell was truly heartbreaking in the movie, mostly because they forgot to mention the fact that his cell was covered with bird waste, rotting bird corpses, cigarette butts, vivisected birds, etc. All of that was left out from the biopic to make a sociopathic murderer look better.
10. A Beautiful Mind – With A Not-So-Beautiful Twist
A Beautiful Mind is a biopic of John Nash – a mathematical genius awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences who was battling paranoid schizophrenia. Nash had to overcome his mental illness in order to continue to contribute to the world of mathematics and economics – and he did. However, there was some pretty weird stuff left out from the story. For example, Nash was possibly a closeted gay man and used to make passes at his male friends in college. Well, nothing weird about being gay but when you climb into someone’s bed in the middle of the night, things might get a bit creepy. He also had an illegitimate child that wasn’t mentioned in the movie. Nash didn’t care for him at all so the boy spent some time in foster care and the boy’s mother had to sue Nash for child support.
9. Walk The Line – More Dark Secrets Than A Movie Can Handle
Walk the Line is a story about the musician Johnny Cash and his personal ups and downs throughout his successful career. No, the movie doesn’t portray him as a saint – but that would, in fact, be impossible. He was a drug addict and his career was based not only on his talent but also on his outlaw image. The movie failed to mention that he landed in jail 7 times for some pretty minor, but also quite weird stuff. He was once arrested for picking flowers on private property, for smuggling a large amount of prescription pills from Mexico, as well as for almost wiping out the whole population of endangered condors in California (he got high and accidentally started a fire that killed 49 out of 53 condors).
8. Straight Outta Compton – Dr. Dre’s Violent Behavior
Straight Outta Compton is about the story of 5 young men who created the N.W.A (Niggaz Wit Attitudes) group. They were known for using brutally honest rhymes and for putting all of their frustrations and anger into their music. What the film forgot to mention was the violent behavior of one of the founders – Dr. Dre. Reportedly, Dr. Dre got into a pretty bad physical fight with his girlfriend where he slammed her against wall, tried to shove her down the stairs, and he even choked her on the floor in a nightclub. She pressed charges against him and he pleaded “no contest” to misdemeanor battery. None of this was mentioned in the movie in order to avoid the graphic violence – or at least, that’s what the official explanation of this situation was.
7. Gandhi – Creepy Habits Left Out
Gandhi is a 1982 biopic of Mahatma Gandhi, a highly spiritual man of nonviolence whose Indian independence movement was a great inspiration for the civil rights movements around the globe. However, he wasn’t all about “rainbows and unicorns” in real life but the movie conveniently forgot to mention that. He actually had a creepy habit or two that show him in a completely different light. For example, he used to test his purity by sleeping next to young girls while forcing himself not to become aroused. One of those girls was his grand-niece. He also claimed that menstruation is the result of a woman’s soul being distorted by her sexuality, not to mention his belief that black people are sub-human. But who would want to know these things about their favorite hero?
6. The Theory Of Everything – Not So Much Of A Love Story
The movie The Theory of Everything is a biopic released in 2014 and it captures the relationship between Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane Hawking. Stephen Hawking is one of the world’s greatest scientists and he has contributed to the fields of theoretical physics and cosmology. Unfortunately, he suffers from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and it resulted in him being completely paralyzed. The movie is focused on his early years when he met Jane while he was studying at Cambridge University and the obstacles their relationship had to overcome. However, it wasn’t really such a great love story as it was portrayed in the film. In fact, Jane described Hawking as a puppeteer with a huge ego who needs to control everything at all times. Also, both Jane and Stephen had affairs while being married to each other.
5. The Social Network – The Story Of A Hero And A Villain
The Social Network is a movie about Facebook’s founder and creator, Mark Zuckerberg, and all of the personal and legal complications he faced after one of the world’s greatest social networks was created. In the movie, Zuckerberg was portrayed as a villain who stole the whole idea, did none of the heavy lifting, and still managed to end up with all the money. The story, of course, needed a hero so Eduardo Saverin was put in that role. The truth is that Saverin wasn’t nearly as invested and as responsible as you would think just by watching the film. He wasted a lot of the company’s funds on parties while Zuckerberg was working and taking loans for servers. Saverin would also put free ads on Facebook without letting the rest of his partners know.
4. Kundun – Torture And Slavery Left Out
Kundun is a 1997 biopic capturing the story of Tibet’s 14th (and current) Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. Dalai Lamas are monks in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. The movie follows the Dalai Lama’s life journey from a particularly hard childhood when he was forced to leave his home after the Chinese invasion of Tibet, to his adult life in India. The movie portrays Tibetan monks as peaceful and spiritual beings whose homeland was invaded by communist China and its oppressive regime. The truth, however, wasn’t all that black and white (or red and white in this case). The truth is that, before the Chinese invasion, Tibetan monks kept human slaves whom they often tortured. The people under their rule had also been treated really poorly and they’d been overtaxed.
3. The Elephant Man – A Different Angle To The Story
The Elephant Man is a biopic of the doctor, Frederick Treves, who used to take care of a severely deformed man, Joseph Merrick. According to the movie, Merrick was being exploited by a freak show where he used to make his living until the kind doctor showed up and took him under his wing. The reality was, in fact, completely different. Yes, Joseph Merrick really was suffering from a terrible medical condition that left him completely deformed but it seems that was the only thing that the movie had right. The freak show didn’t exploit him, they were actually very nice to him. The one that was actually taking advantage of him was the doctor. According to Merrick himself, the doctor didn’t care about him at all and they were never friends. The doctor simply used the story to make himself look great in the movie.
2. Get On Up – James Brown’s Little Secret
Get on Up is a movie about James Brown’s journey from extreme poverty to becoming one of the most influential musicians in the world. The movie doesn’t portray James Brown as a saint. On the contrary, it is pretty accurate in showing how Brown hit rock bottom before rising again as a phoenix. However, what the movie did leave out was the fact that he stole one of his most popular songs, if not THE most popular one, from his ex-girlfriend Betty Jean Newsome. Newsome took him to court and she claimed that the song “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” was something she had been singing while the two of them were riding in a car. Brown took the melody and added some words to it and then published it as his own. Newsome actually won the lawsuit.
1. Quills – The Hidden Sadism Of Marquis De Sade
Quills is a biopic of Marquis de Sade, a French writer whose name was used for inventing the term “sadism”. Originally, the term was used in the sexual context only and Marquis de Sade was locked up in an asylum for committing crimes against public morality. The movie lets you believe that de Sade was unfairly persecuted for writing openly about doing the deed but the truth is, he was actually a psychopath. In reality, he spent most of his imprisonment in a comfortable palace and not in a tiny asylum room. The fact that he used to kidnap and rape women with the help of rape drugs was also left out. He also abducted 6 people and he had them locked up in a room where he sexually humiliated and raped them.
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