Fictionalized History: Hindering or Helping?

In the 2 part episode titled “I Am Anne Frank”   in American Horror Story (a popular fictional television show that centers on different characters in haunted locations) a woman in a 1960s asylum claims to be Anne Frank.  After watching the episode I took to the web to see A) What kind of reception the episode received (surprisingly well) and B) If there were Anne Frank impostors.  My web search quickly turned up an interview with the show’s creator, Ryan Murphy. Murphy in his interview is asked point blank why he brings Anne Frank into the story and he replies that she is a historical figure that has always interested him due to the number of women that claimed to be her following the diary’s publication.

Murphy also mentions Anastastia Romanov, the famous Russian Grand Duchess who was shot to death in 1918 during WWI at 17. Like Anne Frank, Murphy explains that following Anastasia Romanov’s death women came forward claiming to be her. I knew this to be true as I had done some research into the Romanovs in elementary school.

While trying to find out more on Anne Frank impostors, I came across a thread posted on GoodReads.com. Someone had posted a comment about the American Horror Story episode. Unfortunately this led to a number of people be confused:

Discussion on Anne Frank's appearance in American Horror Story

This got me thinking about whether or not the misrepresentation, or the misplacement, of historical characters in film and television was a good idea. It certainly doesn’t help perpetuate historical accuracy. However, Anne Frank’s appearance in American Horror Story had piqued my interest in Anne Frank her impostors, causing me to do some research.

Upon reflecting, I realized this wasn’t the first personal instance in which film/television had pique my interest in history. For those who weren’t fortunate enough to grow up in the 90’s and watch a plethora of animated movies,  in 1997 20th Century Fox presented the animated movie Anastasia, centering on none other than Anastasia Romanov. The animated children’s film is based on Anastasia escaping her families’ execution and her journey to re-connect with her grandmother/discover who she is. The movie, with its spicing of semi-accurate history combined with catchy music left an impression on my young self. I vividly remember going to my public library (back when I didn’t Google) to learn more. Needless to say, the Romanov family occupied my interest for a number of years.

So, despite being inaccurate, the film did propel me to learn more about the Romanov’s story, and into the study of history. Then is the misrepresentation excusable? My answer is possibly, particularly when it foster interest in history. Besides, how many archaeology students didn’t watch Indiana Jones and think “I want a cool hat and a whip!” I think there is a fine balance in film and television to entertain and to present some sort of “truth.” At least in my case, I didn’t watch Anastasia and grow up thinking that she had indeed survived. Instead I was intrigued and excited to learn more. But then again maybe there are people out there who came away with something different, like that all Russians burst into musical numbers.

EK

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