History 110G: The term paper requirement

For your term paper I want you to write an eight page critical analysis of a movie that was released between 1945 and the present. The movie must be about something that really happened between those years, perhaps an incident, a lengthy event, or a biographical treatment.

Your paper must address the following question: To what extent does the movie accurately reflect the historical record? How does the way the movie changed the story change the meaning of the story? To answer these questions you will be expected to read a book, biography or autobiography that addresses the subject of the movie.

How will you audit this movie? Your background book will help. But also go to your library database collection and look up movie reviews via Nexis/Lexis and JStor. I recommend searching for the movie title in quotes then adding the search term ‘movie.’ For example: “Malcolm X” movie.

Here are some good candidate movies for your paper (please forgive the fact that the list below is sort of an Oliver Stone film festival). These are all usually available at video stores. Obviously there are many more possibilities. If you want to come up with your own movie that’s fine, but please consult with me first. Movies that sort of resemble this or that historical period are not suitable for this paper. Exact fits only.

  • A Beautiful Mind
  • A Civil Action; John Travolta’s rendition of the famous environmental lawsuit against W.R. Grace.
  • Ali. The life of Muhhamed Ali.
  • All the President’s Men; The Watergate scandal as experienced by Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford.
  • Apollo 13; the story of America’s failed moon mission.
  • Blow
  • Born on the Fourth of July; based on Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic’s autobiography.
  • Dog Day Afternoon
  • Doors; Oliver Stones’ examination of the short tragic life of rock hedonist Jim Morrison.
  • Erin Brockovich; based on the true story of an industrial poisoning suit against Pacific Gas and Electric.
  • Good Night and Good Luck, broadcaster Edward R. Murrow’s fight with McCarthyism.
  • Hoffa; Jack Nicholson plays the famous Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa. Any major study of the Teamsters or Hoffa will do.
  • Hurricane. The life of Hurricane Carter.

  • JFK; Oliver Stone’s compelling but pretty out-to-lunch version of the Kennedy assassination.
  • Kinsey.
  • La Bamba; the brief life of Rock legend Richie Valens.
  • Milk. The life of Harvey Milk.

  • Missing; Director Costa Gavras’ 1983 exploration of a North American businessman’s attempt to find his son during the overthrow of Chilean president Salvador Allende.
  • Mississippi Burning; the 1964 assassination of three civil rights workers and the consequent investigation.
  • The Rose; based on the life of Janice Joplin; check out Alice Echols’ biography of Joplin, Scars of Sweet Paradise.
  • Nixon, with Anthony Hopkins; any study of Watergate and Nixon will suffice as a background book for this movie.

  • Panther, directed by Mario Van Peebles; read a history of the Black Panther Party for this one.
  • Ray, life of Ray Charles
  • Selma, all about the historical march for voting rights.
  • Silkwood
  • Straight out of Compton

  • The Aviator
  • Thirteen Days; a portrayal of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Zodiac
  • Walk the Line, Johnny Cash’s life and times.

Checklist and term paper rubric


1. Does your paper have a clear argument that appears in the first paragraph of your essay’s first page?

2. Does your paper offer a clear conclusion that recapitulates your argument?

3. Does your paper cite your class text and a second source on your author?

4. Does your paper reference all quotes and factual claims?

5. Are you using a generally recognized reference system like MLA or Chicago Style?

6. Is your paper double spaced with page numbers inserted on each page?

7. Have you spell checked and grammar checked your paper?

8. Have you checked for errors that a spell checker cannot find?

9. Does your paper include a short bibliography listed after the conclusion?

10. If you mention my name on your first page, is my name correctly spelled?

11. Are the names of your principal historical figures correctly spelled?

12. Are you taking pains to avoid plagiarism in this paper?


Excellent paper: explores a clearly articulated original argument which is bolstered by a strong narrative and referenced evidence. The writing is compelling and free of spelling or grammatical errors. The paper itself is competently presented (see items 5 through 10).

Very good paper: explores an argument with competent writing and references. The paper contains no spelling or grammatical errors and is competently presented.

Satisfactory paper: explores a vague but identifiable argument with adequate writing and references. The paper contains some errors but is competently presented.

Be Sociable, Share!