First Amendment Movies

Tuesday, March 22 by Travis Petersen

Strangely, since many believe it to be the foundation of American democracy, there are few First Amendment movies dealing with freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of assembly. Those that do exist, however, explore different aspects of the First Amendment movies rarely touch on. From biopics to documentaries, these First Amendment movies help to show Hollywood's view of many folks' favorite part of the Constitution.

  1. "The People Vs. Larry Flynt" – Milos Forman's film, starring Woody Harrelson as the titular man and one of America's most influential pornographers, is less a story of smut than a shining example for other First Amendment movies. While the film's beginnings focus on Flynt's early life in porn, the second half focuses on his famous Supreme Court case, which stands up for the right to parody public figures and asks whether satire is protected under the First Amendment. Movies about the First Amendment don't come clearer than this.
  2. "The First Amendment Project" – This documentary is divided into three parts, the most interesting of which is Al Franken's portion about getting in trouble with Fox News after satirically using Bill O'Reilly's image and Fox's nonsensical "Fair and Balanced" slogan on one of his books. This entry in the history of First Amendment movies takes a very broad pro free speech tone, as one would expect.
  3. "Dirty Pictures" – This installment in the history of First Amendment movies was made for television. It stars James Woods as Dennis Barrie, head of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, prosecuted for obscenity after the museum showed an exhibit of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe, some of which were deemed in poor taste. Like the other films on this list, it also takes a stance that is in favor of freedom of expression in all of its forms.