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January 10th, 2013
09:15 AM ET

The world according to Hollywood; Zoraida Sambolin looks at the Oscars' past with awarding history


Hollywood and all its fans wait with bated breath until Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone announce this year’s Academy Award nominees this morning. Big contenders include “Lincoln”, “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty”, critically acclaimed films with historical or political importance. But these are hardly the only movies in the race that have drawn scenes from the past. Zoraida Sambolin looks at Hollywood’s fascination with history in the Oscars and tells us more.




“Since 1927, nearly half of pictures nominated for the Academy Awards are about something historical,” Sambolin says. “Why does history and politics make for so much of Oscars attention?” She offers some answers.




“Sometimes it’s as simple as good presidents, patriots and politics,” she says. “And at a time when the economy is roughed and two wars are winding down, movies can provide an escape. Then there is the controversy that usually surrounds a political film.” These factors can be related to any of the three films. “But it’s not just the action and the controversy, directors also like the personal layers in historical films—taking a character who is often larger than life, and making them human.”


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November 14th, 2012
10:24 AM ET

Director Oliver Stone covers 'The Untold History of the United States' in new book, Showtime series

Critically acclaimed director Oliver Stone is now the co-author of a controversial new history book entitled, “The Untold History of the United States.” In it, he covers what he considers “ignored” stories of the nation’s past. The book releases in tandem with a new 10-part Showtime documentary series, which premiers this week.

Stone joins Soledad O’Brien on “Starting Point” to talk about the importance of understanding the country's history.

Stone describes the rationale behind the title of the series. “It could have been called the ‘Ignored History’,” Stone says. “This stuff was at points in the newspapers, or sometimes in the headlines even. But it’s been somewhat forgotten.”

Stone says scholars at the college level and historians have knowledge of the stories he’s highlighted, “but it’s not in the general consensus in the high school level.”

Stone feels history is glossed over in textbooks after World War II, where his book begins.

“The dropping of the atomic bomb is very much the origin myth, you know, that we get in school. We had to drop the bomb to save American lives because the Japanese were fanatics and would fight to the end. We show, in the course of the chapters, how the Japanese were finished...and how the Soviets had come into the war and were cleaning up the Japanese army.” Stone says “there was no necessity to drop the bomb, but it was dropped to warn the Russians, and that starts basically this Cold War conflict that dominates our lives and dominates our national security structure.”

Stone thinks Americans need to educate themselves with the facts and aims the documentary series at American youth. “If we can understand where we came from, we can understand where we are now,” Stone says.

November 13th, 2012
02:38 PM ET

Unearthing the 'fundamental flaws' of a founding father: Jon Meacham on his book 'Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power'

Just days after reelecting President Obama to office, we look to the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. The founding father who penned the Declaration of Independence is revered by many, but there is another less flattering side to him that has fascinated biographers.

A new book written by Pulitzer Prize-winning historia Jon Meacham, "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power," takes a deeper look at Jefferson as a politician. Meacham joins Soledad O’Brien on “Starting Point” today to discuss the potentially hypocritical side of Jefferson and offer lessons for today's politicians.

Meacham says Jefferson was a seducer and describes him as a “terrific retail politician.”

With “wonderful eyes, women tended to swoon for him,” Meacham says. “He was able to make people fall in love with him without knowing quite why.” As a brilliant writer, Meacham says Jefferson “was an architect of really the politics of optimism.” Meacham compares Reagan, Clinton, the hope and change themes of 2008 to Jeffersonian politics.

Meacham relates the government in Jefferson’s era to the government today.

“He governed in an intensely partisan atmosphere,” Meacham says. But he was also a contradictory person himself, especially on the subject of abolishing slavery while owning slaves of his own. “He was fundamentally flawed,” Meacham says, “and could not imagine his world without slavery. As a young man, he tried four or five times, in law and in politics to reform the institution, and failed decisively and publicly each time.”

Meacham says politicians in his experience dislike two things: “failing decisively and failing publicly,” and he therefore deems Jefferson “quintessentially a political figure” for giving up on reforming a system he had attempted to reform as a young man.   

As a final note, Meacham says there is something to learn from the mistakes of Jefferson and the founding fathers. “They were men before they were monuments,” Meacham says. “And if we put them on a pedestal, I think it forecloses their capacity to teach and it keeps us from being able to learn as much from them. If flawed people can do the good he did, then maybe we can too.”

November 12th, 2012
11:29 AM ET

Gloria Reuben on taking role as civil war heroine Elizabeth Keckley in 'Lincoln': It was a 'no-brainer'

The new Steven Spielberg movie "Lincoln," starring Academy Award-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis, opens a limited run this weekend and is already getting Oscar buzz.

The movie tells the story of the final four months of President Abraham Lincoln's presidency, when he worked to end the Civil War. By then, it had already left 600,000 Americans dead and he had passed the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.

One of the characters in the films is Elizabeth Keckley, the former slave who was Mary Todd Lincoln's dresser and confidant, is played by actress Gloria Reuben. Reuben visits Soledad and the "Starting Point" team this morning to talk about the role, working with Day-Lewis and

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