Noah Oppenheim, the screenwriter of “Jackie,” says that even though the movie uses dramatic license for the sake of the emotional portrait of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, they have not done anything that is “counter factual — that we know for a fact didn’t happen or sort of muddles the record.”
Oppenheim is a journalist — he is the executive in charge of NBC’s “Today” — but he wrote the screenplay six years ago, before he had that job.
“We are not making a documentary; we are making a dramatic film,” he tells Variety’s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM. “That is part of our job, to use our creativity to fill in blanks in the historic record and give people an emotional insight into the characters and the events. If you want just the facts and the chronology, there are much better genres than dramatic film to convey those things.”
He adds, “I also think there is a responsibility on some level. There is also probably some disagreement within the filmmaking community on what that responsibility is. For me as a journalist I think we should try not to mislead people about the events and people in our history. There is a line in the film where Jackie says to the priest (played by John Hurt), ‘The characters we read about on the page are often more real than the men who stand beside us.’ And I wouldn’t want to be involved in something that misled people about that history.”
The personal, cathartic nature of “Jackie” is what separates it from other movie portrayals of her. It largely focuses on the events surrounding John F. Kennedy’s assassination, when she at once was dealing with grief and trauma but also planning her husband’s funeral and burnishing his legacy.
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Several scenes show Jackie (played by Natalie Portman) having conversations with a priest about the reasons for the tragic events, the purpose of life and faith, and the role of God. It was actually based on letters that Jacqueline Kennedy exchanged with priests during the months and year following the assassination, Oppenheim says.
Oppenheim talks about why the movie strikes a chord with audiences today.
“I think people are drawn to the fact that we are depicting a woman of extraordinary strength, who in the midst of a really dark time in our country’s history, through her strength, through her dignity, through the choices that she made, was able to unite the country, really unite the world and help it heal.”
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“PopPolitics,” hosted by Ted Johnson, airs Thursdays at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It also is available on demand.