Critical literacy is an essential component to teaching U.S. history while showing films. Educators can prepare students prior to viewing to ask questions that look deeper than what is obvious within the movie chosen for their particular unit.
For instance, students watching Ali should understand what was happening in the world at that time. They will need to know the significance of Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, as well as the controversies around pacifism during the Vietnam era. Furthermore, for movies like Gone with the Wind, the students should be asked to consider if the movie would have the same impact on the viewer if the sweeping cinematography and music were removed. In addition, they could consider the role of women as portrayed in this film compared to what they know of the role of women today.
The year that movies are printed and released plays a huge role in the message with which viewers leave the theater. How would Grapes of Wrath change if it had been made in 1980 instead of 1940 or, if Glory was shot in 1953, who would have starred as the heroes?
Educators can prepare questions as prompts for discussion. The point of critical literacy is to look at the "who, what, when, where, why and how" of the text, which means examining a given text (in this case the movies) from as many angles as possible to discover where fact and fiction exist, overlap or run parallel to the story.