The biopic viewer, like the fan fiction reader, can choose to compartmentalize the variations on the celebrity’s star image. However, the legitimized Hollywood film is branded with a greater connection to truth than RPF fan fiction, with the latter often marked up front by disclaimers deliberately announcing its status as fiction. This is in contrast to the variations on a “based on a true story” title card often seen at the beginning of a biopic. As a for-profit venture, the Hollywood biopic is assumed to have enough adherences to truth in dealing with the likeness of a real person to avoid accusations of defamation. It is understood that the biopic is not a documentary, and thus some degree of fictionalization or invention, such as composite characters or the compression of time, is to be expected (Bingham 2010, 5). Even so, the biopic carries the weight of an intended connection to actuality that RPF fan fiction does not similarly claim. Thus there is less of an expectation that the viewer will strictly compartmentalize versions of the real person, and the recontextualization of the public image in light of the presented private self is less of an invitation to play and more of an argument for a possible actuality.
Piper, M. (2015). Real body, fake person: Recontextualizing celebrity bodies in fandom and film. Transformative Works and Cultures, 20.
Melanie Piper’s paper on Real Person(a) Fiction investigates how RPF is similar and different to more commercial forms of fiction based on real people or events, such as the Hollywood biopic. Can we meaningfully say that Aaron Sorkin has fallen face-first into Silicon Valley RPF fandom? Piper argues that RPF and biopics “work” in similar ways: they take a celebrity’s public image and recontextualize it to show a fictionalized, private self. A major difference between the two is the level of truth claim they make. A biopic is often the only one of its kind and the first and only time the majority of its audience will engage with the subject. Because of this, it makes a much stronger implicit truth claim than a piece of RPF, which is one of often hundreds or thousands about that particular celebrity. The circulation of many different, clearly fictional, accounts of the same “canon” events in RPF communities creates a stronger awareness that the limited information available can be interpreted in a variety of ways. In this way, it encourages at least some compartmentalization between the celebrity persona, private person, and fictionalized character.