“Oceans Rise, Empires Fall”: Cinematic Historical Drama & “The Good Lord Bird”

“Oceans Rise, Empires Fall”: Cinematic Historical Drama & “The Good Lord Bird”

“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known/ When I was young and dreamed of glory/ You have no control/ Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?”

– Chris Jackson (George Washington) in Hamilton

When I started this blog, I wrote that I would not attempt to make these posts a history lesson. I love history, being a historian, and talking about history. While teaching American history is my profession and passion, I want this blog to mix that with all the other topics I appreciate. Still, there are times, like today, when I use my knowledge of history, not to teach a lesson but to shine attention on my addiction to movies and television. Allow me, as I put on my historian hat, which I like to imagine resembles the one worn by Denzel Washington in Glory or Daveed Diggs in The Good Lord Bird, and discuss my emotional reaction to cinematic historical drama.

During times like these, when history seems distant, distorted, and dismissed, I often look to cinema to help remind me of what inspires me. History has always been something that interested me. The other day, I watched Hamilton for the first time and felt emotions that I had not felt since the pandemic began. Teaching using ZOOM has left me disappointed, even while recognizing this format’s necessity and how lucky I am to do what I love. But, while I understand those facts, I have felt empty. Watching the filmed performance of the epic Broadway play on Disney + helped remind me, even if slightly, of my love of history. I believe that cinema can offer a powerful emotional trigger that can bring history into the present. So, join me as I reconsider this viewing experience alongside some of the best cinematic moments, for me, that repeatedly stirs up my passion for history.

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