Hollywood's Civil War Dilemma: To Imagine or Unravel the Nation?

Trevor B. McCrisken and Andrew Pepper

in American History and Contemporary Hollywood Film

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print February 2005 | ISBN: 9780748614899
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748670666 | DOI:
Hollywood's Civil War Dilemma: To Imagine or Unravel the Nation?

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The unpopularity of slavery as a subject for Hollywood is underlined by the significantly larger proportion of films made about the American Civil War. The Civil War has traditionally occupied a hallowed place in the benign meta-narrative of American history. Hollywood, one of the key ‘players’ in shaping the nature and ideological content of American public history, has played an important role in transforming the Civil War from a ‘story of bitter, irreconcilable conflict between two societies and between two sets of values’ into one of ‘human courage and bravery exhibited by all’. This chapter examines the ways in which a range of post-Cold War Hollywood films about the Civil War — Glory (1989), Gettsyburg (1993), Ride with the Devil (1999) and Cold Mountain (2003) — have engaged with this benign meta-narrative; that is, whether or to what extent they have challenged or reinforced an affirmative notion of national identity and how their engagement with such concerns speaks about the numerous, complex ways in which ‘America’ is being re-constituted domestically and internationally in the post-Cold War world.

Keywords: Civil War; history; Hollywood films; Glory; Ride with the Devil; Cold Mountain; national identity; America

Chapter.  10227 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies

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