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Politically Correct History

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"What then is, generally speaking, the truth of history? A fable agreed upon."
Napoléon Bonaparte, Mémorial de Sainte Hélène

Politically Correct History is when shows set in the past change that past to fit the cultural norms of the time in which the show is filmed, or the prejudices of those currently in power. Originally, this manifested itself through making the main characters surprisingly "enlightened" (and thus more sympathetic to a modern audience). An example of a more recent development is extras being cast without regard to race, even in historical situations where it doesn't make sense.

This trope can run both ways. Nowadays, movies and shows depicting the past are more likely to show society and individuals being far more tolerant than they actually were. On the other hand, sometimes what appears to be this trope might really be an accurate represention that only seems wrong because previous portrayals have entrenched wrong perceptions. For example, black cowboys in recent depictions of the Wild West are sometimes accused of this trope, when historically, black cowboys were quite common. The same can also be true of Action Girl characters in some pre-modern historical settings, as Stay in the Kitchen was averted or defied more often in real life than some seem to think. So it pays to do one's homework before assuming something has been made up to appeal to contemporary sensibilities.

A variation is when the "politically correct" phenomenon depicted (for example, racial diversity) did exist in real life, but was something extremely marginal and rare, while the medium implies it was commonplace. For example, there was always some limited trade with medieval China (Marco Polo being only the most famous example), so it's not necessarily unrealistic to feature a white man in a story set there. If this is handled realistically, however, there will probably also be many Chinese who are surprised at seeing one for the first time — at least as a general rule, he will definitely not be treated as "just one of the guys" while visiting.

It should also be mentioned that politicians invoking history and school books can often succumb to this trope as well, but which when and where is better discussed elsewhere, as is the question how deliberate these incarnations of this trope are.

See also Popular History, Fair for Its Day, Video Game Historical Revisionism, Eternal Sexual Freedom, Aluminum Christmas Trees, Creator's Culture Carryover, America Won World War II, Black Vikings, Colorblind Casting, Historical Hero Upgrade, Historical Villain Upgrade, and Historical Villain Downgrade.

Contrast Deliberate Values Dissonance and, when applicable, No Equal-Opportunity Time Travel.

Compare Fractured Fairy Tale, where this is usually Played for Laughs.

For other uses of the term politically correct, see Political Overcorrectness and Political Correctness Is Evil.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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  • A Bluebell ice cream ad has a cute, gentle song about "the good old days" while some kids play outdoors and their mom call them in for a snack, harkening very much to the 50s or earlier. Only thing is, a black child is playing with them, and the boy's father sits down at the picnic table with the families of his white friends to eat. Someone seems to have forgotten that racial equality didn't really begin to take off until the late 60s and early 70s, and even then, things remained quite tenuous for years, particularly out in the countryside - even if those families themselves weren't racist, they might avoid associating with black people due to their neighbors. This would be especially true in Blue Bell's primary geographic market, which is Texas and the surrounding states.

    Anime and Manga 
  • In episode 3 of The Ambition of Oda Nobuna, several characters talk of marriage. While they do talk about marrying for political gain and alliances, they ultimately conclude that it's more about love. While commoners may or may not have done this in the past (and certainly in Yoshiharu's timeline), back around this time period through much of the world nobility often married for political reasons, largely in an attempt to unite lands or nations together.
  • Black Butler:
    • The series includes significant Indian and Chinese characters, as appropriate to Victorian Britain. However, they are portrayed as encountering very little, if any, racial discrimination for people living in the age of imperialism.
    • Madame Red is not just a female doctor, but a female doctor who performs abortions, which are legal and are carried out in a hospital. Again, the series is set in Victorian Britain.

  • Since its subject is a Jew, the David statue should be circumcised, but since the Catholic Italians of the 1500s believed an uncircumcised figure to be more ideal, David is portrayed instead with his foreskin intact for all to admire.

  • Formerly Known as Harry Potter? begins in 1990 but the characters have views on transgender people and transgender kids that are more common in the 2010s. They also use terminology which wasn't commonplace in the 1990s, such as "assigned gender".
  • In A Man of Iron, Tony Stark has the outlook of a modern libertarian, same as in his home continuity, even though in this continuity he's Ned Stark's cousin and has lived all his life surrounded by the Deliberate Values Dissonance of Westeros. The implication seems to be that modern attitudes are just intuitively obvious to someone who's as smart as Tony is.
  • El Encanto A Travez de mis Flores: While the time period Encanto is set in is never elaborated on, the noticeable lack of electricity puts it somewhere between the late 19th-century and 20th-century. No matter how beloved the Madrigals would have been or how isolated the Encanto was, there was no way that a lesbian couple would have been accepted on a social level, let alone be officially married in a very Catholic setting like Colombia.
  • How Far Do These Roots Go Down?: In the time period that the movie was set in (implied to be somewhere between the late 19th century and The '50s), a gay marriage would not be accepted, let alone legal. Yet, it's implied that Bruno married his husband David with no problems. In fact, Alma actually objected to Julieta's spouse choice instead of Bruno's. In addition, Isabela is confirmed to be an open lesbian which, again, has nothing to do with Alma's dislike of her.
  • Riding a Sunset: When Prowl comes to Earth, it's revealed that he and Jazz are Conjunx Endurae (in other words, husbands), which Jazz confirms by giving Prowl a huge kiss in front of all the Autobots and a portion of Sector 7. While a few soldiers seem uncomfortable note , no one says anything bad about it. Charlie and her family clearly hold a more progressive view, as she explains homophobia to Bumblebee while voicing her dislike of it. Later, Tripp breaks up with Tina and ditches her and her flunkies on the side of the road after they start making homophobic jokes.
  • A Thing of Vikings: Berk's culture is considered progressive even by modern-day standards, and this was before they made peace with dragons. For example:
    • They have laws against slavery and have (relative) gender-equality due to the Dragon War forcing them to have as many defenders as possible.
    • They also laws against rape and other forms of sexual misconduct (which is accurate for Norse-based cultures).
    • They also approve of same-sex marriage and relations (which is not historically accurate, but comes from being allies with the Bog Burglars).
    • They also practice Polyamory, religious-tolerance, have laws that protect the rights of concubines, just to name a few more.
    • This is lampshaded and deconstructed whenever someone from outside of Berk, be they thralls or envoys, experiences Berk and their people for themselves and react with confusion and astonishment, the rest of the world being as politically incorrect as you would expect for the time period.
    • They do have laws against sex before betrothal (and before marriage, but no one really enforces those). But neither set of laws are enforced, at all, where Hiccup and his inner circle are concerned, the village having been aware that Hiccup and Astrid were physically intimate long before they married – being the Hero has its perks. But others aren't as lucky – one Jorgenson girl, Lopsides, is a social pariah for getting pregnant (twice!) out of wedlock, and only being the daughter of the clanhead has kept her from being completely ostracized. And Fishlegs and Heather being intimate in violation of the law against premarital intercourse is explicitly mentioned as one of the motivations of Heather's harassers.

    Films — Animated 
  • Inverted in Mulan, of all the surprising places. In the original Chinese folktale, Mulan is an almost all-powerful figure who gets away with practically everything, despite being a woman. In the Disney version, the simple repercussions of her merely being female are treated more seriously. For example, in the original story, when she reveals herself to be a woman, everyone in the army is totally cool with it. In the Disney Animated Canon version? She is automatically declared a traitor, is spared death only because the army captain Owes Her His Life, and is abandoned in the mountains to meet whatever fate may come to her despite the fact that she's injured. This scene was actually criticized for taking it too far, as in this time period women were not as oppressed as would become the norm in later dynasties (beginning with the Ming Dynasty), and there was no law in China prescribing death to women impersonating a man to serve in the military, nor was that part of the original story. It was added by Disney for dramatic purposes.
    • Mulan II, however, plays this trope completely straight when Mulan goes on a crusade against arranged marriage. Traditions and societies are very resistant to change, especially in a country as all-fired huge as China. Famed war hero or not, you couldn't just defy the Emperor's orders and marry off the princesses to your own soldiers. Even in the most open-minded of Chinese dynasties, something like that wouldn't have gone over very well. The fact that she managed to be completely pardoned for it and be able to give a lecture about how arranged marriage — something she was knowingly and willingly ready to do in the first movie — is bad makes the entire film one big Politically Correct History movie.
  • The Disneyesque Anastasia shows the Tsars as benevolent, white-hat rulers and their rule as a time of peace and prosperity. Their downfall was caused not by injustices setting off an uprising, but by a "spark of unhappiness" sent across Russia by the evil magician Rasputin. This is played in contrast to how terrible and cold Russia became under the Soviets, with the citizens of St. Petersburg singing, "Oh, since the Revolution, our lives have been so grey!" This is what made Anastasia so infamous in Russia, where people know very well what really caused the February 1917 coup/abdication: the lackluster war effort and near-starvation in the urban centres over the winter of 1916-17, caused in turn by the Romanovs' 'light touch'/'hands-off' approach to government (ironically done for fear of antagonising the people), though in fairness the Romanovs were decent people overall, just incompetent at government. There's also the fact that according to many Russians who were alive at the time, the Soviet era averted (or at least downplayed) Full-Circle Revolution as despite having many problems, Lenin and Stalin are often fondly remembered despite running dictatorships, while it's Gorbachev and Yeltsin (beloved in the West) who are given this treatment. It also helps that western ideas of a communist utopia being a giant hippie commune where everyone gets paid equally regardless of the work they do was never the goal in Russia. This is surprisingly justified, while there was oppression of dissent, atrocities committed by the Soviet government, and a cult of personality around Stalin, they also rapidly industrialized and won World War II during that time, so things actually did improve. And much like in the actual story of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the regular people were relatively free and the Soviet dictatorship only brought the hammer down on them if they dissented.
    • Ironically, a previous film by Don Bluth, An American Tail, does touch on the atrocities of Tsarist Russia: the protagonists are Jews fleeing from a Russian pogrom.
  • The Princess and the Frog: The movie is set in the 1920s New Orleans, but its outlook is brighter and kinder than how it was in real life. Old South attitudes are still present, but are gently handled: Tiana and her mother sit in the back of the trolley and live in a segregated neighborhood. However, Big Daddy La Bouff, a white rich man, has no qualms eating at a black-owned diner, or with his daughter marrying a Latin(ish) royal (though they could simply be the exception to the rule), and Tiana's restaurant proudly serves and employs people of all races. The closest thing to actual Deliberate Values Dissonance is a Compressed Vice with the realtors. In the costume party scene, they announce to Tiana that they are selling the sugar mill Tiana wants to buy, and are very condescending towards her in a combination of racism and sexism at the idea of a black woman running a restaurant.
  • Pocahontas glosses over some of the more heinous elements of the conflict between the British colonists and the Native Americans.
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire:
    • Though set in 1914, the Atlantis expedition includes, among others, a female Hispanic mechanic, a half-African, half-Native American medical officer and a female second-in-command. A justification is provided, though: the team's core is comprised of mercenaries - which put petty little things like ethnicity aside in the Search for More Money - and was assembled by Eccentric Millionaire Whitmore, who doesn't care much about what people say is 'impossible'.
    • One of these expedition members also mentions that her older sister is a professional boxer, which goes unremarked on despite the fact that this would have been nearly unheard-of at the time. Compounding this is the implication that all her bouts have been against men, including her upcoming fight for a middleweight title shot.
  • Zig-Zagged or Downplayed in Everyone's Hero. It's set during the Great Depression, and while nobody really mentions race at all, you might notice that everybody in the Major League happens to be white while everybody in the Cincinnati Tigers happens to be black. (The latter is especially noticeable since they're seen crammed into a bus together.)
  • Frozen II: the guards squadron of Arendelle includes both people of color and female soldiers. In early 19th century. In a distant Scandinavian country.
    • This was in response to criticism of the first movie, which featured a more accurate depiction of 19th century Scandinavia where the characters were entirely European. Producers have to choose between being culturally accurate and being diverse. You can't always have it both ways.
  • Superman: Red Son: The parts of the film set in the 1950s and shows numerous black men as part of a crowd of journalists at an important event. Lex Luthor also has a black man as his second-in-command at his company and Lois Lane, a woman, is named as the new editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet.
  • In Lightyear, Buzz's commander, Alisha Hawthorne, is openly a lesbian, who is seen Happily Married to another woman, kissing her on-screen, and even raising a family with her. Within the context of the movie alone, this isn't an example, as the setting is hundreds of years in the future, but the film is also said to exist within the Toy Story universe, where it came out in 1995 at the latest and was marketed towards younger audiences. During The '90s, it would be very radical and improbable for a family movie to portray a same-sex couple in a positive light.
  • 4*Town, the boy band in Turning Red, has white, Black, and Asian members. Most Y2K-era American boybands only had white members.
  • The Secret of Kells is set in a monastery in 9th Century Ireland and features three side characters that are, while never textually stated to be such, clearly Italian, African and Chinese. An Italian monk hanging out in 8th Century Ireland is certainly possible, though still a bit off. An African, probably Nigerian seems highly unlikely, but a Chinese monk traveling that distance and even being Christian in the first place seems downright impossible.

  • Skyclad "discussed" (if using a bloody axe counts) attempts to gloss over less-than-pretty moments in a song aptly named "Think Back And Lie Of England".
  • The Rastafarian reggae song "Rivers of Babylon" is based on Psalm 137 but leaves out the infamous passage about smashing Babylonian infants against rocks.
  • The video of "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club is set in Missisippi in the 1800's, but features black and white people equally on the steamboat party.
  • Parodied in the "I Was Not A Nazi Polka" by the Chad Mitchell Trio (written less than twenty years after World War II), where a group of Germans loudly proclaim that all Germans hated Hitler and that the amount of Nazis numbered "two or three at most." This was an actual attitude held by some Germans at the time.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Deadlands takes place in an alternate history version of the Old West. In this version, the South freed its slaves and the Civil War's drain on manpower allowed females to gain greater social status. The rulebook stipulates that only villains be racist.
  • Handwaved in Clockwork And Chivalry. So much has changed so fast, including the introduction of clockwork automation and alchemy to warfare (leading to the Battle of Naseby ending in an incredibly bloody stalemate which saw more people die more swiftly than anyone thought possible beforehand) and the unexpected mid-war capture, trial, and execution of King Charles, that it's shaken faith in the traditional order and allowed women and other disenfranchised groups an opportunity to grab for greater rights and recognition.

  • Although what was "politically correct" was considered different back then (and entirely mandated by censorship), William Shakespeare's King Henry VIII falls squarely into this trope, carefully avoiding the more morally ambiguous things he did, such as beheading his second wife, Anne Boleyn.
  • His Richard III is a perennial bone of contention for historians, since its based entirely on official propaganda, framed Richard III and his friends as "evil" or "manipulated" and everyone else as "good". When since this was the Wars of the Roses there was plenty of good and evil to spread around. For instance, Shakespeare's play makes George of Clarence into a noble victim killed by Richard III when he was actually a corrupt backstabbing Prince who King Edward IV finally killed. The marriage to Anne Neville is portrayed as a seduction when all reports indicate that it was a love marriage. It also portrays Richard III as a tyrant and Obviously Evil when he was indeed a progressive monarch and highly popular in the North and his main enemies were the Woodville-Yorkist nobility.
  • On a similar note, Macbeth goes a little out of its way to show Banquo as a victim and a cool dude in general, as, by that time, King James was on the throne and he was supposedly descended from the historical Banquo. Note in particular the scene of the kings begotten by Banquo appearing before Macbeth — the last one is supposed to be James himself.
  • Henry V has another interesting historical example.
    • The scenes in France prominently depict the soldiers at Agincourt as a diverse (for the UK) group from England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. The real army was only English and Welsh. In fact, Scotland was allied with France during the Hundred Years War.
    • The fact that the (vastly outnumbered) English Army had put the PoWs to the sword is downplayed as a purely retaliatory measure because the French did it first, mentioned in a throwaway comment from good ole' Hal.

    Theme Parks 
  • Several attractions at Disney Theme Parks are like this, most notably Pirates of the Caribbean, which was actually bowdlerized into being more politically correct, with aspects like pirates chasing women and the Wench Auction being altered or removed note . This is probably justified, as one attraction that isn't, The American Adventure, was loaded with Unfortunate Implications.
  • Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, Texas was laid out with six sections representing the six flags that have flown over the state: Spain, France, Mexico, The Republic of Texas, The Confederacy and The United States. In the 1990s, the park renamed the Confederacy section to "Old South" for obvious reasons.
    • Six Flags Over Georgia had a similar layout (except with the United Kingdom and Georgia itself in place of Mexico and the Republic of Texas); over time it diversified into a grand total of 15 sections, with the USA and Georgia being the only names retained from the original concept.

    Web Animation 
  • The Walten Files is set in the 80s, yet Banny, a cartoon character, is openly lesbian in a time when casual homosexuality in a kids' show was inconceivable. Susan Woodings has also been confirmed to be lesbian, with Sophie Walten confirmed to be bisexual and in a romantic relationship with Jenny by Word of Gay and the latter two don't seem to have a problem with how they like each other.

    Web Comics 


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Deliberate Values Resonance


Asgard's History

Hela reveals the real way Asgard got all that gold.

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Main / PoliticallyCorrectHistory

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