The Butler (movie) and Biography vs. Historical Fiction

My husband and I went to see The Butler, starring Forrest Whittaker, yesterday.

It was riveting.  I admit I cried several times.  Never once in the two hours did I wonder how much longer we had to go just… what is going to happen next?

It was a fascinating journey that spanned nearly eighty years.

I left the theater wondering if this was an actual person’s life or an amalgamation of people and events?  It seemed like too much to have happened to one person.

It was.

I found this article from The Slate, “How True is The Butler?” that discusses the differences between the life of  Eugene Allen and the movie.  It’s a lot.

It makes me wonder – should they have done that?  It’s one thing to make up a minor character or an event, but this was pure fiction inspired by the fact that there was an African-American butler who worked in the White House through many administrations.   It was good, but it was fiction.

On the one hand, I admit I felt a little bit hoodwinked by learning that he was a real person but then learning that they made up nearly every dramatic point in the movie.

On the other hand, I’m glad he didn’t personally go through all that, but somebody certainly did, many people in fact.

It’s exactly what I thought it, an amalgamation of events and lives.  It was a good movie, well acted, and I enjoyed it very much.  I just wish they’d left it at that and said it was fiction instead of making the connection to the real person as if it were about his life.

It feels disrespectful to this man whose life it was based on.  It’s like they said, your life isn’t good enough.  I think if they had focused on the drama of what he experienced in the White House, that would have been enough for a good movie, but they had to sensationalize it to make a “BOX OFFICE SMASH!”

As a writer, I know and expect that memoirs are subject to the vagaries of memory and perspective.  I also appreciate that the best historical fiction and science fiction are born out of fact.  When it comes to fiction, I staunchly defend the author’s right to write the story they have to tell.

This is different.  This was someone’s life that was subverted into a drama for the screen and sold to viewers with the idea that it was based on his life.

What do you think?  Is it too soon?  Was it disrespectful to change his life so much?  They aren’t claiming all the events really happened to him, so why does it feel so… disrespectful?

Refilling the Creative Well

When I’ve spent a lot of time creating, like last weekend, it can leave me feeling tapped out.  Like I’ve run my creative well dry and I need to give it time to replenish.  Sometimes I can help it along by adding experiences.  Here are some of my favorite ways to do that.

  • Reading Fiction or Creative Non-fiction – I enjoy lots of different types of fiction but I just picked up a book my husband had bought me for Mother’s Day because it was on my Amazon list, Strange Brew, with urban fantasy short stories by Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs and many others.  A couple of my favorite non-fiction books for inspiration are Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen and Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach.  There’s an entry for each day of the year and I can just open it to a random page or look up the day for inspiration. (I’m going to stop there or we’ll be here all day.)
  • Taking Naps – I’ve always done this on the couch in the living room, preferably with a favorite old movie that I’ve heard so many times that it just kind of lulls me.  (Casablanca, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, A Field of Dreams, Moonstruck, A League of Their Own… feel like you’re getting to know me yet?)  However, I don’t really have a couch anymore so I’m more likely to nap on a bed upstairs which means quiet, and I’ve found that to be more restful.  Even better is a warm summer day with the windows open and the curtains blowing in the breeze, particularly when the farm down the road is working on fields that aren’t near my house.  There might be birds twittering around outside or cicadas buzzing in the tall grass.
  • A Good Movie – See the list above, if you haven’t already seen them.  Sometimes I just want something to make me laugh but sometimes I like something that makes me think.  To be really useful, it has to be a movie I haven’t seen before, that takes me somewhere new in my mind.  I said recently that sometimes I wished I could just wipe out the memory of a particular movie so that I could see it again for the first time, like the first Harry Potter movie.  I love seeing it over again occasionally, but I’d love to have that first experience of it all over again.  Hopefully there’s something wonderful and new in the movies just around the corner that we can all enjoy.
  •  Cleaning the House – Okay, not so much the cleaning as the having it clean, but I don’t have a maid.  (My husband is willing to help out in this area but there’s nothing like cleaning it myself, so I guess the act of organizing and cleaning is restorative in itself, come to think of it.)  Cluttered spaces seem to infringe on how my mind works.  I feel jumbled inside my head.  A good clear out does wonders for me.
  • Go Somewhere New – Now, this could entail travel, but that hasn’t happened recently so I’m going suggest a technique that I read in Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life.  It’s simple, I take a different route from how I usually go.  I have a rather long commute so I have several different routes that I can take to get to work in the morning.  I change them up every once in a while and notice the changes since the last time I went that way.  It forces my brain out of it’s rut.  (Can’t wait to take a real vacation again but, with a 2 year old, that’s a little ways in the future.)
  • Music  – Music seems to speak right to the emotions.  I remember hearing George Lucas say something to the effect that music is fifty percent of a movie experience.  Movie scores are some of my favorite music but I enjoy just about any type of music, depending on the mood I’m in.  A couple of my favorite albums for nudging my creativity along are the soundtrack to Practical Magic and Eye to the Telescope from K.T. Tunstall.  Something that has a driving rhythm, like Tunstall’s Black Horse & the Cherry Tree, really works for me.
  • Hot Drinks – I’ve fallen in love with hazelnut latte in the past couple years but I also recently bought a couple packets of an old favorite – Land o Lakes (LOL!) raspberry and amaretto hot chocolates.  Bellagio sipping chocolate can also be turned into an awesome hot chocolate with a full cup of milk.  I’ve enjoyed herbal tea but it just doesn’t give me the same decadent kick.
  • Taking Pictures – There’s something about how thinking about taking pictures forces me to slow down and really see the world as I try to frame a shot.  It makes me take notice of things I might normally cruise by in my daily life.
  • Writer’s Group – Bouncing ideas off other people in the pursuit of our craft, sharing the love of writing and creating together is almost a surefire way to get my creative juices flowing again.  I love to hear what other people are working on.  We’re passionate people by nature, I think, and we can get fired up about a project.  There’s a certain glint in the eye when we’re on the trail of something.  I have a feeling if you could tap it, we could light the room without any electricity.

Writer’s block is no fun and it can be incredibly frustrating.  The frustration can create a snowball effect.  Remembering to refill my creative well can help keep that from happening.  Definitely worth the time and attention.

What do you do to refill your creative well?

For your inspiration…