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History professors comment on historical accuracy


Arizona Daily Wildcat

By Shaun Clayton
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
April 28, 2000
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NBC miniseries airs Sunday, Monday nights

"It's a combination of fact, fiction, fantasy and revision of memory."

That quote, from Leonard Dinnerstien, professor of History and director of Judaic Studies, sums up his impressions after watching "The 70's."

The upcoming NBC miniseries attempts to depict an entire decade in two nights, starting Sunday, April 30th and ending May 1st.

Dinnerstein was asked about his impressions of the movie, along with Sarah Deutch, Associate Professor of History.

"Some things are done very, very well," Dinnerstien said, in relation to the historical accuracy of the film. "Some things are characters. The story is woven together so that the main characters appear in various aspects of the '70s. This is done for dramatic effect. "

Dinnerstein said personal bias will influence people's perceptions.

"Whether it works depends on what aspects you want to remember of the '70s," he said. "The Kent State riot - right on. Watergate - certainly abbreviated, but the main points are there."

Deutch agreed, saying, "I would say that in the most part, in the themes that they emphasized, and the documentary footage that they showed, that it rang true."

In particular, Deutch cited the portrayal of discrimination against women:

"The sex discrimination suit that gets brought and lost rang very true, even though they had the legislation on the books that should have made it possible to win."

"Women's Groups really originated in the 1970s," Deutch said. "They were known as conscious raising groups, where groups of women sat around and talked about their experience, and discovered that the things that they had been going through which they thought were their own problem and they were the only unhappy person in the world, instead were common, and widespread among women."

Further, Deutch went on to say that "Women realized that there were structural reasons that put them into the positions they were in instead of these idiosyncratic problems. From that, they developed a kind of political analysis that allowed them to act."

Despite the accuracy's shown in the film, there are also some things which were not covered to the extent the professors would have liked.

"The Vietnam War is covered too briefly," Dinnerstien said. "However, how it is covered, with the quote from the CIA agent saying 'look, we lost this war, let's hope we don't lose any more.' That was good. That was very, very good."

Deutch said there were other significant elements from the seventies that were not given adequate time.

"They stay away from abortion, which becomes legal in this time period, and is fundamentally important, considering the themes they are talking about with sex and women," Deutch said. "They also stayed away from affirmative action which as a big impact towards mobility for women."

While the makers of the miniseries attempted to cover the entire decade, there were some events that both professors felt were omitted.

"There are a lot of aspects they don't cover at all," Dinnerstien said. "They don't cover well the changing attitudes. The country becomes much more aware of the suffering of minorities and women. It's captured somewhat, but you know this is an eastern (coast) film because they focus against discrimination against blacks even though this might be California, rather than discrimination against Indians or Mexican Americans or anybody who's different."

Deutch also agreed, saying the portrayal of other racial groups in "The 70's" was lacking.

"There's no Chicanos, there are no Asians, there is no any of that and given that in 1965 there was an immigration law changed that opened immigration without quotas. This really changed the dynamics, especially in California. They had all those scenes in LA and there were no Mexicans!"

Deutch was surprised, however, of how the Black Panthers, a radical black activist group, were sympathetically portrayed in the movie.

The reason for her surprise relates to the attitudes of the US government towards activist groups and the unscrupulous acts committed to stop them.

"It did mention in the film the murder of the Black Panther leaders, and they were definitely murdered and they were definitely murdered by agents of the federal government. That's been documented - raids on Black Panther headquarters where people 'just happen' to get shot in the back. Certainty, activist were being killed - even the women's movement, which was hardly violent was infiltrated by the FBI."

Dinnerstein gave a reason why the U.S. government would go to such lengths to attack such groups.

"In this country - no violence, no change - people are extraordinarily reluctant to give up the power they have," he said. "This is true all over the world, but in the United States, you want to see when significant change comes, it comes after violence of some kind. If there was no violence, there was no protests if there were not people arrested, changes do not occur."

Such facts might be lost on today's generation, however, since this movie is set in the 1970s, and most UA students were born in the early 1980's.

Dinnerstien said the current college-aged generation should still get the point of the topics presented.

"They'll understand the whole film - they'll get the point," he said. "Whether they will get the point that this is an exaggeration, whether they'll be able to distinguish that which is accurate from that which is extreme - for instance, they have a few scenes on the Moonies. That is extreme. Yes, many people do become this way, but most people don't."

Switching subjects to a lighter aspect of the '70s, the professors had a different opinion about the fashion of the '70s and how it was portrayed in the movie.

"In the '70s, there were a lot of polyester suits," Deutch explained, "There weren't a lot of polyester suits in the movie. Not a lot of synthetic fabrics. I don't remember any leisure suits showing up, which everybody was wearing. Even the president was wearing leisure suits."

Dinnerstein also said the fashion depiction was inaccurate.

"The lead guy (Chad Rowe) wearing different colored pairs of slacks," Dinnerstien said. "That would have been absolutely unheard of in the '70s. For a three-piece suit, slacks were okay, but if you were not in business attire, you wore jeans."

With the critical analysis aside, the professors removed themselves from their academic knowledge to say whether or not they thought the movie was entertaining.

"I liked the first half better than the second half," Deutch said, "I was surprisingly engaged by the first half, which I hadn't expected, because I had seen part of "The 60's" which I couldn't continue watching for five minutes."

Dinnerstien had a different opinion.

"I liked the film, but I like sappy and sentimental - most people don't," he said. "I'm not into realism. Theater, movies are an escape."

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