Thursday, August 10, 2006

Crimes Against History

I haven't done an edition of the "Anxiety Index" in a while, but I have an all new series to start now: "Crimes Against History" in which I randomly view historical movies/popular books, etc. and comment on their disgusting white-washing of the past.
I was motivated today by "Come See the Paradise," which is about the Japanese internment during WWII. In addition to having some of the clumsiest exposition I've ever seen, the movie gets one of the most famous facts of US history WRONG.
The movie was going along steadily, sort of like a good little textbook when the dreadful gaffe was made. As she was narrating the story to her young daughter, the Japanese heroine of the movie, Lily says that the Supreme Court ruled that the internment camps were unconstitutional, and that therefore all the internees were freed. It bugs me that a film-maker with a budget big enough to make sure that the costumes and cars were correct could not bother to figure out that the Supreme Court decision in 1944, Korematsu vs. United States was that the camps were constitutional. It wasn't until the 1980s that the federal government acknowledged the unconstitutionality of Exec. Order 9906.
I'm glad to say that my students all know this fact by tne end of their US history course. Maybe someone in the movie should have told Parker? With all those Japanese American actors, I can't believe no one knew.


Anonymous said...

First, I want to thank you for the memorial you wrote about Josie. The few times I met her, she was a very nice individual and the work she accomplished in her time is amazing.

On the Alan Parker film, you may remeber he had similar issues with his movie on the Civil Rights "Mississippi Burning." I understand fudging history to condense multiple persons into one character or multiple conversations into one. It is weird, though, when more atteniton is given to every element of clothing than Supreme Court issues.

Which is too bad, because not a lot of movies dealing with issues like internment. "The Karate Kid" briefly brought it up.


reb said...

Hey Shaun,
thanks! Good to hear from you on here. Alan Parker always manages to make the federal govt. into the "good guy" even though he is one of the more progressive people in Hollywood....and both "Mississippi Burning" and "Come See the Paradise" because of their attention to visual detail are extremely evocative, which makes them even more problematic.

Fantastic Forrest said...

Urgh. I was hoping to use this for a Social Justice film class. This is a pretty big flaw.

Can you suggest any alternates about the internment?

Unknown said...

The best film I've seen recently that deals with the internment is the documentary "The Cats of Mirikitani", which also deals with poverty and aging in the contemporary U.S. Mirikitani was a street person who had been an artist and was interned in one of the camps.

Fantastic Forrest said...

Thanks, Rebecca. That is really interesting. I'm going to watch that film.

For my course, I'm focusing on popular culture films, not documentaries. It's unfortunate that there don't appear to be any that accurately depict the facts about internment.