Docudrama (or documentary drama) is a genre of television and film, which features dramatized re-enactments of actual events.[1] It is described as a hybrid of documentary and drama and "a fact-based representation of real event".[2]

Docudramas typically strive to adhere to known historical facts, while allowing some degree of dramatic license in peripheral details, such as when there are gaps in the historical record. Dialogue may, or may not, include the actual words of real-life people, as recorded in historical documents. Docudrama producers sometimes choose to film their reconstructed events in the actual locations in which the historical events occurred.[citation needed]

A docudrama, in which historical fidelity is the keynote, is generally distinguished from a film merely "based on true events", a term which implies a greater degree of dramatic license, and from the concepts of historical drama, a broader category which may also incorporate entirely fictionalized events intermixed with factual ones, and historical fiction, stories generally featuring fictional characters and plots taking place in historical settings or against the backdrop of historical events.

As a portmanteau, docudrama is sometimes confused with docufiction. However, unlike docufiction—which is essentially a documentary filmed in real time, incorporating some fictional elements—docudrama is filmed at a time subsequent to the events portrayed.[citation needed]


The docudrama genre is a reenactment of actual historical events.[1] However it makes no promise of being entirely accurate in its interpretation.[1] It blends fact and fiction for its recreation and its quality depends on factors like budget and production time.[3] The filmmaker Leslie Woodhead presents the docudrama dilemma in the following manner:

[instead of hunting for definitions] I think it much more useful to think of the form as a spectrum that runs from journalistic reconstruction to relevant drama with infinite graduations along the way. In its various mutation it's employed by investigative journalists, documentary feature makers, and imaginative dramatists. So we shouldn't be surprised when programs as various as Culloden and Oppenheimer or Suez, or Cabinet reconstructions refuse tidy and comprehensive definition.[4]

Docudramas producers use literary and narrative techniques to flesh out the bare facts of an event in history to tell a story. Some degree of license is often taken with minor historical facts for the sake of enhancing the drama. Docudramas are distinct from historical fiction, in which the historical setting is a mere backdrop for a plot involving fictional characters.[1]

The scholar Steven N. Lipkin considers docudrama as a form of performance through recollection which in turn shapes our collective memory of past events. It is a mode of representation.[5] Educator Benicia D'sa maintained that docudramas are heavily impacted by filmmakers' own perspectives and understanding of history.[6]


The impulse to incorporate historical material into literary texts has been an intermittent feature of literature in the west since its earliest days. Aristotle's theory of art is based on the use of putatively historical events and characters. Especially after the development of modern mass-produced literature, there have been genres that relied on history or then-current events for material. English Renaissance drama, for example, developed subgenres specifically devoted to dramatizing recent murders and notorious cases of witchcraft.

However, docudrama as a separate category belongs to the second half of the twentieth century. Louis de Rochemont, creator of The March of Time, became a producer at 20th Century Fox in 1943.[7] There he brought the newsreel aesthetic to films, producing a series of movies based upon real events using a realistic style that became known as semidocumentary.[8] The films (The House on 92nd Street, Boomerang, 13 Rue Madeleine) were imitated,[7] and the style soon became used even for completely-fictional stories, such as The Naked City.[9][10] Perhaps the most significant of the semidocumentary films was He Walked by Night (1948), based upon an actual case.[11][12] Jack Webb had a supporting role in the movie and struck up a friendship with the LAPD consultant, Sergeant Marty Wynn. The film and his relationship with Wynn inspired Webb to create Dragnet,[13] one of the most famous docudramas in history.

The particular portmanteau term "docudrama" was coined in 1957 by Philip C. Lewis (1904-1979), of Tenafly, New Jersey, a former vaudevillian and stage actor turned playwright and author,[14][15] in connection with a production he wrote, in response to the defeat of a local school-funding referendum, for the Tenafly Citizens' Education Council addressing "the development of education and its significance in American life."[16] Lewis trademarked the term "DocuDrama" in 1967 (expired, 1992) for a production company of the same name.[17]

The influence of New Journalism tended to create a license for authors to treat with literary techniques material that might in an earlier age have been approached in a purely journalistic way. Both Truman Capote and Norman Mailer were influenced by this movement, and Capote's In Cold Blood is arguably the most famous example of the genre.[18]

American television

Some docudrama examples for American television include Brian's Song (1971), and Roots (1977). Brian's Song is the biography of Brian Piccolo, a Chicago Bears football player who died at a young age after battling cancer. Roots depicts the life of a slave and his family.[1]


This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (August 2023) (Learn how and when to remove this message)
This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (August 2023)

This list is ordered by release date.



This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (August 2023) (Learn how and when to remove this message)


This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (August 2023) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "Docudrama". The Museums of Broadcast Communications. Archived from the original on 2012-08-12. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
  2. ^ Ogunleye, Foluke (2005). "Television Docudrama as Alternative Records of History". History in Africa. 32: 479–484. doi:10.1353/hia.2005.0019. ISSN 0361-5413. JSTOR 20065757. S2CID 162322739.
  3. ^ Hoffer & Nelson 1978, p. 21.
  4. ^ Rosenthal 1999, p. xv.
  5. ^ Lipkin 2011, pp. 1–2.
  6. ^ D'sa, Benicia (2005-01-01). "Social Studies in the Dark: Using Docudramas to Teach History". The Social Studies. 96 (1): 9–13. doi:10.3200/TSSS.96.1.9-13. ISSN 0037-7996. S2CID 144165650.
  7. ^ a b Aitken, Ian, ed. (2013). The Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film. Routledge. pp. 767–768. ISBN 9781136512063.
  8. ^ Schauer, Bradley (2017). Escape Velocity: American Science Fiction Film, 1950–1982. Wesleyan University Press. p. 42. ISBN 9780819576606.
  9. ^ Krutnik, Frank; Neale, Steve; Neve, Brian; Stanfield, Peter, eds. (2007). "Un-American" Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era (Illustrated ed.). Rutgers University Press. p. 143. ISBN 9780813541983.
  10. ^ Spicer, Andrew (2018). Film Noir. Routledge. p. 57. ISBN 9781317875031.
  11. ^ Krutnik, Frank (2006). In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity. Routledge. p. 206. ISBN 9781134973187.
  12. ^ Sanders, Steven; Skoble, Aeon J. (2021). The Philosophy of TV Noir. University Press of Kentucky. p. 55. ISBN 9780813181561.
  13. ^ Nickerson, Catherine Ross (2010). The Cambridge Companion to American Crime Fiction. Cambridge University Press. p. 102. ISBN 9780521136068.
  14. ^ "Philip C. Lewis, 75, dramatist, writer for various media". The Bergen Record. 5 September 1979. Retrieved 25 June 2022.
  15. ^ "Philip C. Lewis, Writer For Film, Radio and TV". The New York Times. 6 September 1979. Retrieved 25 June 2022.
  16. ^ "docudrama (n.)". Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper. Retrieved 25 June 2022.
  17. ^ "DOCUDRAMA - Trademark Information". Trademark Elite. Retrieved 25 June 2022.
  18. ^ Siegle 1984, pp. 437–451.
  19. ^ "The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1977) - Charles B. Pierce | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related | AllMovie".
  20. ^ "The Big Short (2015) - Adam McKay | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related | AllMovie".
  21. ^ "Spotlight (2015) - Tom McCarthy | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related | AllMovie".
  22. ^ Hunter, Allan (21 May 2023). "'Little Girl Blue': Cannes Review". Screen Daily. Archived from the original on 22 May 2023. Retrieved 2 August 2023.


Further reading