The HISTIES, 2014

Published: February 28, 2014

Forget about the Oscars. We’re all about the HISTIES here at BackStory! The HISTIE is our newly-minted award for the movie which does the best job of dealing with a historical subject. The guy’s made the case for their Histie-nominees on this week’s show, and now we want your VOTES!

Along with the guy’s shortlist of 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyers Club, and Her, we’ve expanded the field to all the movies nominated for a Best Picture Oscar this year. Vote in the poll and leave us a comment explaining WHY THIS MOVIE DESERVES THE HISTIE – we’ll read out the best ones on next week’s show.

If you have a case for an Oscar-nominated movie in another category, or one that wasn’t nominated at all, then weigh in anyway! You can make your nomination, and why it deserves the HISTIE, in the comments field below.

3/14/2014: The results are in – the winner of the 2014 HISTIE award – for the movie dealing best with a historical subject is – “12 Years a Slave.”

This raw look at slavery in the antebellum South gained 72% of the vote in our poll. Second place went to “Dallas Buyers Club” with 11.5% of the vote, and “Captain Phillips” just made it into third place with 5% of the vote. “American Hustle” led the remainder of the field with 4%, while “Her,” “Philomena,” and the catch-all “None of the Above” each received 2.5%. “Gravity,” “Nebraska” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” came away without any votes.

Thanks to everyone who voted and offered your perspective on this year’s nominees.


Voting closed at 12 noon on Wednesday, March 12th.

As we explained on the show, here are the criteria we’re using to evaluate movies:

  1. The movie must look right, but also approach history with respect. The characters must be fully embedded in their time and place. It’s got to be more than just a costume drama.
  2. The movie must successfully compress historical complexity into a story that seems truthful – a story that could be true, according to everything we know about the time period.
  3. The film must engage a big question that still matters today, and help viewers rethink what they thought the answers to that question was.


(And if you’re feeling especially creative this week, why not weigh in with a suggested design for our new award? We’d welcome any and all aesthetic contributions at


Comments (15)

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  1. Vicki Broach

    The movie was truthful in that it depicted how Solomon had to place his trust in other white people to achieve his freedom. Then, as now, we can only find freedom through faith in one another.

  2. Sabrina Sojourner

    It was the film I most wanted to see and the film I was most afraid to see. I am the descendant of slaves. We have the stories in our family and for that reason, I have been critical of the dominant narrative. While it has changed overtime, this movie blew-up several myths.

  3. Linda

    It portrayed the face to face, day to day dehumanizing reality of slavery for both slaves and owners. Slavery is often portrayed as fairly benign, but the reality of a human being owned by another is often glossed over.

  4. Bud Haas

    Dirty Wars, nominee for best documentary meets all three of your criteria, and it flows superbly like a drama. It certainly looks right, since much of it is real footage; the characters are truly imbedded in time and place, showing the progression of the general in charge from secret war lord to the top of the military. As you folks know, history sooner or later is revealed, and all that this film tells, we now know after Snowden, is indeed true. And lastly, the story, and history, continues today with the shenanigans in the Ukraine, with the US backing the neo-nazis, as history tries to repeat itself vis-a-vis Sarajevo in the nineteen teens.
    Did any of you three watch Dirty Wars?

    • Lisa Holiday

      I think documentaries are the “street urchins” of the movie industry. Unless you live in a town that has an “art house,” there’s little chance you will see it in a theater. If I don’t hear any buzz, I may miss it altogether or stumble across it online through Netflix or Hulu.

      When the Oscars come out, I rarely know any of the documentaries and sometimes the clips are all i see to make a determination for what I want to go rent or stream.

  5. Horace Donald Black

    I felt the humanity of the main characters as they struggled with trying to answer the unspoken question of “WHY!” Solomon bridged the psychological gap for me between my great grandparents and me so I could almost taste their sorrows. Solomon being able to express himself so painfully beautiful in language that told of the horrors of slavery, not some other person’s story but in the anguish all his own.

  6. Kate Zyrkowski

    12 years a slave brought back my own personal history to me. I remember arguing with my mother, in the ’60s, about the morality of slavery. She told me that when she was a child in the ’20s, she overheard her uncles discussing whether or not slaves had been mistreated. Their conclusion, as her father at that time was a farmer, was that slaves would never have been mistreated because no owner of any stock (cattle, horses, pigs, etc.) would ever mistreat their property because one would jeopardize their initial investment. I countered that no matter how well one was treated, if one did not have personal freedom and no hope of ever having that freedom, you were being mistreated. It surprised me when she considered this deeply as I was sure that anyone would have thought that taking away a person’s freedom was anathema to basic humanism. After that discussion with her I began talking about this with other people and found out that most people never considered this fundamental truth about slavery. With this movie, I hope all the people that see or hear about it realize how insidious “our peculiar institution” was in our history and not accept that it could never have been so bad.

  7. Rick DeJesus-Rueff

    12 Years A Slave not only portrayed the system of slavery in its brutality but it also portrayed the full humanity of Solomon Northup and his fellow slaves. Neither Northup nor the other slaves were reduced to mere victims, they had lives, hopes, aspirations, fears, experienced love as well as hate; in short, they were human even as they were caught in an inhumane system.

    It also showed the complexity of the situation for all involved, even the slave-owners and their families. The jealousy of Epps wife as she recognizes her husband’s infidelity with a female slave stands out for me.

    So, this movie provided a graphic depiction of an important part of our nation’s history without completely dehumanizing all of the persons involved. That is compelling and conveys integrity despite the emotional cost of viewing the cruelty of slavery. It allows us to better understand our nation’s history.

  8. Relling Westfall

    In addition to all the other compliments to 12 years a slave, I would like to add that the movie has made the original text a best seller. As an English teacher, that alone would secure my vote. While the movie is great, the book is even better because it gives details about slavery that most people would never guess. Solomon explains that he could not pick cotton successfully, no matter how often he was beaten. However, he was a whiz at cutting sugar cane. Therefore, he was hired out to cut cane during that season, and given other things to do during cotton season, for which he was better equipped. My point is Northrup’s book helps us to understand a little bit better the situation and life of slaves. We should stop avoiding this topic and pursue it: Solomon Northrup, Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass portray the American genius of intelligence, bravery, persistence and cleverness as much as any American ever has.

  9. Michaela

    While Dallas Buyer’s Club also displayed real historically valuable film, I just don’t think there is any contesting 12 Years a Slave as the most historically relevant. It was the most accurate portrayal of one of the most ignominious, notorious parts of our past that I’ve ever seen in a theatre. Especially considering how long this narrative and similar ones were latent history near exclusion from books altogether, I believe the movie represents huge strides for our country. Talk about gritty truth! We’ve come a long way.

    • Lisa Holiday

      I don’t really understand the uproar over Jared Leto’s performance or portrayal. The point is that as an audience member, I understood him as a person. Don’t assume he’s doing it “wrong” simply because he’s not truly transgender. Could they have hired a transgender like “Orange is the new Black” – maybe or even “probably,” If they had, it would not guarantee a great performance, but they didn’t and Leto’s performance, to me, was incredible. As an audience member, I got it. (btw, for the record, I had never seen him before – I was kinda surprised when I saw the beard and then found out young girls liked him and they credited that to his Oscar win, which is ridiculous, imho.

  10. Jonathan

    I’m a little upset because, just like the Academy, none of you mentioned Inside Llewyn Davis. I’m looking at you Brian Balogh! I was not yet born when the 1960s New York Folk scene was in full swing, so I can’t honestly say whether or not it was an honest depiction. However, the way the movie looked (I can see why it was nominated for cinematography) just felt like the early 1960s. I’d like to know what you fellas thought of the historical context of Inside Llewyn Davis!