By Barbara Kryvko
Typically, we try to avoid history repeating itself – unless that repeat is in the form of an awesomely enjoyable movie. Bigger-than-life historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, JFK, and Queen Victoria have many movies made about them, but some historical figures haven’t received the same amount of love from the press or the film industry.
Hidden Figures was one of DVD Netflix's top rented movies of 2016. Which other historical figures have been rather overlooked or underrated? Below are 10 movies that are not only enjoyable to watch, but will teach you about historical figures that may be new to you. Most of these quality films have been just as overlooked as their subjects.
This true and heartbreaking story is about three Aboriginal girls who escape a re-education camp in 1930s Australia. Stolen from their families because they are half-caste, Grace, Daisy, and Molly figure out that if they follow the camp’s rabbit-proof fence, they can reunite with their families.
The movie follows the girls throughout their 9-week, 1500 mile journey through the Australian outback as they try to outrun the federal agent who is tracking them. The determination of the three young girls is combined perfectly with the desperation of the physical and the political landscape.
Gertrude Bell was an amazing person – an adventurer, a politician, a writer, a cartographer, and responsible for the administrative state of Iraq. So much of Bell’s story is bigger than life, but much of this movie is highly romanticized and focuses on her relationships with two very different men: gambler Henry Cadogan and British officer Richard Wylie. The film, like Bell, is soft spoken, yet sends a strong message to today’s young women.
The story of San Francisco politician Harvey Milk is a bittersweet tale of a gay man who spent most of his early life wanting to be accepted for who he is, then turned into a serious advocate, then martyr, for LGBT rights all over the world. Sean Penn is perfect as Milk, turning this inspiring and tragic story into movie magic.
If there’s a movie that sends the message “anyone can be a success,” it’s this one. Eddie Edwards was Great Britain’s first and only Olympic ski jumper. In the 1988 Olympics held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, his unusual form earned him the nickname “Eddie the Eagle,” and endeared him to Olympics fans worldwide. The movie is entertaining and fun, albeit majorly fictionalized. It’s a fun, happy movie that is great for the whole family.
J. M. W. Turner was a highly-celebrated English painter of amazing landscapes in watercolor and oils. Turner was a child prodigy, eventually opening his own studio, and finally earning a prominent place at the Tate Britain museum.
Unlike a lot of artists, his work was very popular during his life but, as is the focus of this movie, he was very eccentric and rough, barely literate, and unrefined. He grunted more than spoke, spit on his paintings to get certain effects, and insulted his fellow artists. Timothy Spall plays Turner strongly, and shows glimpses of softness amid the character’s rough exterior.
Mary Frances Thompson (Te Ata) was born in the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. In high school, she began telling stories and singing songs from many tribes in her area, eventually performing for Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt at Hyde Park, and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in England.
The film follows her young adult life, as she aspires to a career as an actress, only to realize that what she really has to offer the world is her own personal story. I learned so much about Native American culture from Te Ata.
I found Pina completely by accident. I was searching for a completely different movie, and mistyped my search criteria. I was intrigued by the subject, German contemporary dance choreographer Pina Bausch. I don’t know a lot about contemporary dance, but I fell in love with Pina’s style – it’s so powerful, fluid, imaginative. Scenes of her work stick in my mind over a year later. Pina Bausch actually passed away two days before the filming for this movie started, so the interviews included are particularly poignant.
The story of Cesar Chavez is even more relevant now than in 2014, when this movie came out. Chavez was a soft-spoken migrant farm worker who became a strong activist for the rights of farm workers across the U.S. He founded the United Farm Workers union, which serves as the bargaining agent for over 10,000 workers nationwide.
Chavez is very well known in Florida and California, and the rest of the country deserves to hear about his amazing life and peaceful methods of moving political mountains.
This film is quite polarizing. Many find the story of Kaʻiulani, heiress to the throne of the Kingdom of Hawaii, to be simplistic and trite. However, it has received many awards in Hawaii, which tells me that it is a better representation of Ka’iulani’s life than it is a well-acted film. I felt the weight of the world on my own shoulders as I watched her make hard decisions, one after another.
I am a huge space program nerd. I have always been inspired by our race to get to the moon and beyond. When I saw Hidden Figures, I was shocked. I thought I knew everything about NASA, but this story had been hidden underground, just like the women who went through this experience.
The performances by Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae were so powerful that I could feel what they were feeling – the frustration at being treated as lower class citizens, the pride in the amazing work they were doing, and the relief as their male counterparts started to understand the unfairness and change the way that NASA works. Everyone should see Hidden Figures, to educate yourselves and your family about these wonderful women.
Barbara Kryvko is an IT professional who keeps her eyes on the technical aspects of any film. Bring on the biggest explosions, the longest long shots, the most outrageous martial arts, the darkest space odysseys, the cheesiest CGI sharks, and she'll be occupied for days. Don't forget the popcorn.