Wow, A Movie Plays Fast and Loose With History? Who Knew?

By Carmen Comment

It’s been ages since Edward Wyatt, now housed in LA and covering the film beat television, got anywhere near a publishing-related story (as Judith Regan is like, so six months ago) but his reporting on the not-quite controversy surrounding HBO’s very loose adaptation of Dee Brown’s BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE is as close as he’ll get now. The 1971 nonfiction book broke ground because it told the battle’s story from the perspective of the natives, but the HBO adaptation – produced by Dick Wolf and starring Adam Beach & Anna Paquin – adds a a new central character, a man who was part Sioux, was educated at an Ivy League college and married a white woman.

“Everyone felt very strongly that we needed a white character or a part-white, part-Indian character to carry a contemporary white audience through this project,” Daniel Giat, the writer who adapted the book for HBO Films, told a group of television writers earlier this year. “This was not an attempt to do the Ken Burns version of the Indian experience,” Wolf said to Wyatt in an interview. “It is a dramatization, and we needed a protagonist.” And that’s the thing: of course it would be nice to have historically accurate movies but, um, it’s a movie, not a documentary. Of course they are going to go for dramatic arcs even if they are fictionalized ones.

But such knowledge won’t satisfy everyone. Nicolas Proctor, Brown’s grandson and one of three people who oversees his estate, as well as an associate professor of history at Simpson College in Iowa, said that as a historian he was “always kind of shocked that history is not moving enough, is not evocative enough and rich enough to keep people from having to get in there and start monkeying around with it.” He said that the estate had no control over the film’s content.