Often hailed as one of Hollywood’s most uncompromising and controversial directors, Oliver Stone has garnered praise from the left and derision from the right. Through his films, Stone has portrayed several contemporary and polarizing political figures, such as Republican presidents Richard Nixon and George W. Bush, and the impact of cultural issues such as how the Vietnam War affected the American psyche.
Oliver Stone joined Salon.com founder David Talbot for an interview to discuss the director’s new documentary series on Showtime, The Untold History of the United States, and his new book, On History: Tariq Ali and Oliver Stone in Conversation. This program is now available on demand at FORA.tv.
Behind Stone’s exploration of American history is a desire to unveil events in our nation’s past that are absent or glossed over in education textbooks or by mainstream historians. Talbot mentioned that students are taught “rubbish” across the United States andasked Stone why Americans have such a poor sense of history. “Whether I’m at a dinner or a social gathering, people just don’t talk about history,” Stone said. “And if they do talk about it, it’s often in sound bites without any true intellectual understanding.
This ignorance was also present in Stone’s own kids. “Their sense of history was warped, much like mine was growing up during the Cold War,” said Stone, who believes his own lack of historical understanding was because of propaganda and fear tactics perpetuated by mainstream media and by the government during the 1960s.
Out of all the films Stone has directed over the years, JFK—his 1991 film about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and alleged cover-up—garnered the most controversy. Many believed that Stone had purposely distorted facts and the mainstream media subsequently gave the movie scathing criticism. While Stone admits that he wasn’t prepared for the firestorm that JFK generated, he defended the rigorous research that he and his research team put into crafting the historical event. Stone blames an “Orwellian media” that continues to perpetuate lies told by the US Government; lies such as the JFK assassination, that Stone believes are part of a great injustice in American history.
It’s often difficult for citizens to question the circumstances behind the JFK assassination or even the legalities of the war in Iraq because the US Government plays a role in repressing information. This information, in turn, becomes part of the country’s “untold history,” according to Stone. “We need to continually question events and learn about our untold history because of the patterns that come around time and time again,” Stone explained.