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On the 25th anniversary of Schindler’s List, revisiting the controversial portrayal of the Holocaust and the challenges of dramatizing historical tragedies

Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler and Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern in Universal Pictures' 'Schindler's List'
Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler and Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern in Universal Pictures' 'Schindler's List'
Universal Pictures

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Steven Spielberg’s 1993 historical period drama “Schindler’s List” turns 25 this year and the highly-acclaimed and highly-controversial film is receiving a 4K restoration to mark the historic event.

While the film garnered critical notoriety from all corners of the filmmaking world after its release, there were still those who took issue with the film’s dramatization and portrayal of the events of the Holocaust and those who were impacted by it. One of the biggest questions surrounding the film was whether Spielberg thought that he was making the one big Holocaust film, something beyond critique or even reproach. Some still argue that Claude Lanzmann’s nine-and-a-half hour documentary “Shoah” comprised of interviews with survivors, is the definitive Holocaust film.

But even a quarter century after it first released, “Schindler’s List” is still scrutinized and debated, which speaks to a larger discussion about how historical atrocities like the Holocaust are portrayed in works of dramatization or historical fiction and whether events like it can even be accurately dramatized while still paying respect and doing justice to the horrors of the event itself and those who were directly affected by it.

On its 25th anniversary, FilmWeek critics Justin Chang, Claudia Puig and Peter Rainer along with special guest Akiva Gottlieb revisit the film and its portrayal of the Holocaust, consider why the film is still so relevant today and discuss the way Hollywood portrays historical tragedies and the overall idea of dramatizing an atrocity like the Holocaust.


Claudia Puig, film critic for KPCC and president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association; she tweets @ClaudiaPuig

Justin Chang, film critic for KPCC and the Los Angeles Times; he tweets @JustinCChang

Akiva Gottlieb, contributing writer to the Los Angeles Times; his latest piece is “Why ‘Schindler’s List’ remains brilliant and troubling 25 years after its release

Peter Rainer, film critic for KPCC and the Christian Science Monitor; he wrote an essay for the L.A. Times after the film’s release in 1993 responding to the backlash against it