Nightly News   |  February 21, 2013

Oscar’s historical film nominees: ‘artistic license’ or misinformation?

Three of this year’s best picture contenders were based on real events – but just how accurate were their portrayals and what responsibility does a filmmaker have to tell the truth? NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports.

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>>> the academy awards this weekend, with three of the best picture nominees based on fact, not fiction, but true stories . a lot of people are talking now about just how true to the actual facts these movies should really be. does dramatic license give filmmakers a license to write some historic events their way? our report tonight from los angeles and nbc's mike taibbi .

>> reporter: in "argo," the story of six americans saved by a daring rescue during the iran hostage crisis , there's a tense airport chase scene at the end that never happened.

>> in order to make an exciting and entertaining film, you have to stretch the truth.

>> reporter: artistic license , says one critic.

>> you have to dramatize things a little bit. that's just the way movie-making it.

>> reporter: but "zero dark thirty" about the killing of osama bin laden began with a torture scene even the filmmakers say they never confirmed produced useful clues.

>> now, now, now!

>> reporter: and in steven spielberg 's "lincoln," they got a key fact wrong. connecticut 's two congressmen did not vote against the 13th amendment ending slavery. current connecticut congressman wrote spielberg saying placing connecticut on the wrong side of the historic and divisive fight over slavery is verifiable facts. agreed says movie host ben mankowits.

>> i think if the movie is about the passage of the 13 amendment or whether we're going to torture people in the united states of america , you bet their feet should get held to the fire.

>> reporter: but oscar has celebrated dozens of films over the years that were based on true stories , but that imagined characters and dialogue and whole scenes. from "patton" to "a beautiful mind " to "the king's speech," filmmakers use artistic license to create dramas, not documentaries.

>> what students know or think they know about history often comes from movies. you have to disabuse them about some of the misconceptions and give them broader context of history than hollywood movies are capable of giving them.

>> reporter: in the oscar spotlight this year, three movies about significant, historical events , along with a story-teller's age-old question. wyomi why let the facts get in the way of a good story. mike taibbi , nbc news, los angeles .