5 Propaganda Films That Blatantly Lied

Tuesday, November 15 by Joseph Gibson

The art of propaganda has been around almost as long as movies themselves. The goal in propaganda isn't to entertain or educate, but to sell an idea to the audience whether it's true or not. Contrary to how the word is often used, propaganda has been used by both sides of a given political conflict, be it World War II, the Cold War or even the political divisions of today, especially in the movies. Since being propaganda doesn't mean a movie's not still entertaining, these movies are still worth watching whether you agree with what they're selling or not. Still, a lie is a lie, and these are five of the most obvious.

"The Birth of a Nation"

D.W. Griffith's groundbreaking 1915 movie is considered to be the "birth" of the action movie, the full-length feature film and many cinematic techniques like parallel editing and close-ups. It's also one of the most disgusting pieces of propaganda ever made, glorifying the hate group the KKK and villifying an entire race of people. It's mostly looked at as alternately groundbreaking cinema and racist kitsch, but what it really is is highly skilled and influential propaganda.

"Battleship Potemkin"

Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 propaganda movie is also a landmark in cinema history. And while the lie it tells isn't quite as malicious as the one in "The Birth of a Nation," it's no less factually inaccurate. The lie in question can be found in the movie's most famous sequence: The Odessa Steps massacre, featuring civilians being brutally gunned down by Russian czarist troops in Russia. Most historians agree that such a massacre never actually happened, but that hasn't stopped the power of the movie from burning the event in many people's minds.

"The FBI Story"

Anyone who knows American history also knows that J. Edgar Hoover's Federal Bureau of Investigation has a lot of skeletons in its closet. Keeping detailed files on everyone from personal enemies to Martin Luther King, Jr., even people who recognize the good that the FBI has done have to admit the creepy exercises of power the bureau represents. You wouldn't know that this movie, which stars Jimmy Stewart, had a lot of creative input from Mr. Hoover himself (he even had a file compiled on the movie's director despite their being personal friends).

"I Am Cuba"

This propaganda movie about the Communist revolution in Cuba is selling a more subtle kind of lie. But anyone familiar with the conditions in Cuba would know that the Socialist paradise hinted at in the movie is far from reality. Cinematically, though, "I Am Cuba" is one of a kind, featuring staggeringly impressive tracking shots decades before the technology to easily make those kinds of shots existed.

"Triumph of the Will"

This Nazi "documentary" showing Hitler's rise to power in Germany is probably the most infamous propaganda film of all time and the lie it tells is a whopper: The horrible genocidal policies of Adolf Hitler are obscured in favor of shots of marching soldiers and other symbols of German unity. Sometimes leaving a piece of the puzzle out is as big a lie as fabricating something untrue and that's definitely the case with "Triumph of the Will."