Historical Accuracy: Gangs of New York

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Historical Accuracy: Gangs of New York

The Movie Gangs of New York, released in 2002, gives insight into the violence, corruption, and disarray that occurred in The Five Points of Manhattan during the 19th century, and reveals one of the biggest skeletons in New York’s closet. Martin Scorsese’s translation of the events in the film proves to be very intriguing, and for the most part accurate. However, there are a few aspects of the film he did not correctly portray: the timing of events, and the scale of the events that occurred.

The main character’s story starts off in 1863, as he returns to the Five Points from an orphanage in which he spent most of his childhood. Amsterdam Valon’s father was a Catholic Priest, and leader of an Irish immigrant group called the Dead Rabbits. He was killed by Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting, a Native American Protestant leader, when Amsterdam was a young child. He returns to the bustling Five Points to avenge his father’s death by killing the Butcher. The film continues with Amsterdam’s steps closer and closer under his enemy’s wing, and finally ends with his identity and motives revealed, and the outbreak of the 1863 Draft Riot.

The inaccuracies I discovered in this movie were not large, but minor things that were overlooked, or enhanced to fit the mould of Hollywood films. Scorsese failed to correct the timing, scale and proportion of events, and a few other small details.

The character Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting is based on a Native American Protestant leader Bill Poole, who lived in the Five Points during this time. He was also a butcher, and shared many of the same goals and ideals of Native American reign shown in the movie. The timing of this is inaccurate because he was assassinated in 1855, prior to the Dead Rabbit’s Riot and Draft Riot shown in the movie. One of the other timing aspects that was off is the seasons in which the riots and gang fights take place. In the film most of the fighting scenes appear to...
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