Changing perspectives from Hollywood

With almost a century of cinema behind us, we can see how times and perspectives have changed

With almost a century of cinema behind us, we can see how times and perspectives have changed

April 10, 2007|by SARAH JOHNSTON/Pulse Correspondent

Since 1910, when D.W. Griffith directed the first film made in Hollywood, according to, movies have captured the full spectrum of human emotion, telling powerful stories that continue to inspire long after the credits begin to roll. Some of the most riveting reels explore the trials and triumphs of our evolving nation. Sometimes, it is when we revisit the past that we gain the insight needed to script a bright future.

The following is a nine-part list of films that address social changes of the past nine decades. For each period, a current and classic film is suggested for viewers who want to compare perspectives. The 21st-century films look back on the social changes, either echoing or reassessing the viewpoints of movies made many years before.

1910s - Progressivism

Social changes gained momentum during the Progressive Era, a time of economic, political, social and moral reform. A gigantic war raged in Europe; at home, Progressives pushed for social justice, general equality and public safety, which eventually led to Prohibition and women's right to vote.


The first Hollywood film was produced in 1910, revolutionizing the media forever. Stories of social changes could now be visually told to audiences across the country. Fifteen film companies were operating in Hollywood by 1912. With social reform a popular topic, Hollywood focused on rags-to-riches stories.

'The Little Princess' (1917)

In this tale of riches to rags to riches, a wealthy 10-year-old girl is left penniless when her father is reported missing in action during war. Forced into servitude, she remains hopeful that he is alive and will rescue her. The film was remade in 1939 and 1995 with a happy ending.

'The Pursuit of Happyness' (2006)

Inspired by a true rags-to-riches story, Will Smith stars as Chris Gardner, a devoted single parent struggling to make ends meet as he strives to pursue his dream of becoming a successful stockbroker.

1920s - The Jazz Age

Often referred to as the Roaring '20s, this decade marked a noticeable shift in attitude. Americans turned to lighthearted amusement to heal wounds and hardships still fresh from World War I. The first commercial radio station in the United States began broadcasting in the 1920s, and the Jazz Age soon swept the country.

'The Great Gatsby' (1926)

Perhaps the best representation of the Jazz Age, the film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic book is said to capture the unrestrained materialism and hedonistic attitude of the Roaring '20s. One of the lost films, no copy of the original movie exists today. Look for the 1974 remake, starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow as star-crossed lovers.

'Idlewild' (2006)

Andre 3000 and Big Boi of Outkast star in this musical melodrama, a splashy depiction of the decade's most infamous icons: speakeasy bootleggers, prowling gangsters, charming chanteuses and smoky nightclubs.

1930s - The Great Depression

America left the happy tunes of the 1920s behind as it entered into a decade devastated by this massive economic downturn. As the New York Stock Exchange continued its steady decline, the number of unemployed and homeless skyrocketed. Destitution and desperation enveloped America. Despite financial losses, Hollywood continued to provide Americans with escapist entertainment during even the darkest days of the Depression.

'The Grapes of Wrath' (1940)

The film adaptation of John Steinbeck's classic novel captures the dreariness of the Depression as it follows a poor family of sharecroppers who set out to make a new life for themselves in California.

'Cinderella Man' (2005)

Russell Crowe stars as Jim Braddock, in this underdog story of the boxer that inspired a nation during the bleakest days of the Great Depression.

1940s - World War II

In 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor rocked the nation, leading to America's involvement in World War II. Congress passed draft legislation, causing a severe shortage of manpower by 1943. In an effort to increase production of essential war materials, women began to fill industrial jobs that had traditionally been held by men, leading to the creation of Rosie the Riveter, a WWII icon. Hollywood joined forces with the Office of War Information, a government propaganda agency established in 1942, to bring images of overseas wartime activities to the homefront. Postwar movies looked at life after the war.

'Best Years of Our Lives' (1946)

The Oscar-winning film analyzes the aftermath of WWII and examines the altered lives of three veterans and their families. A powerful performance by real WWII veteran Harold Russell, who lost his hands in the war, won him a special Oscar for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans."

'Flags of Our Fathers' (2006)

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