Reality vs. Larry Flynt

What really happened.
Jan. 25 1997 3:30 AM

Reality vs. Larry Flynt

Exactly how airbrushed is the movie's hero?

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And children. The film gives the impression that Flynt has none, although he has five--to the best of his knowledge. One of them, Tonya Flynt-Vega, has accused him of sexually molesting her and, in an interview in the current issue of Penthouse, Flynt's former brother-in-law accuses him of molesting a second daughter.

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T he main point of critics such as Gloria Steinem (who wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times) is that the film sanitizes Hustler's unsavory sexuality. Even the most cursory look at back issues of Hustler confirms that the filmmakers seriously misrepresent its content. The images we see or hear described in the movie are vaguely countercultural (a Santa-with-an-erection cartoon), not sick (Hustler's real-life jokes about Betty Ford's mastectomy); they are soft-core (centerfold-style nudes), not hard-core (the pictorial of a woman gagged and bound on the top of a car). The magazine's "humor" often depended on racist and sexist stereotypes, such as wide-grinned, watermelon-eating blacks. Flynt says he was parodying these stereotypes, but the film carefully avoids raising the issue.

The film also exaggerates Flynt's martyrdom for the cause of free speech. One instance: At his 1977 trial, Flynt was sentenced to seven to 25 years for obscenity and for engaging in organized crime. The film portrays the sentencing, and then a prison visit where Althea weeps, "Our bed is so empty." In fact, Flynt spent six days in jail.

As for Flynt's climactic Supreme Court victory against evangelist Jerry Falwell, who sued him for emotional distress, the film sticks fairly closely to the facts. Indeed, the screenwriters borrowed lines from the court transcript. At an earlier Supreme Court appearance, though, Flynt shouted, "Fuck this court!" and called the justices "eight assholes and one token cunt." That transcript didn't make the movie.

Jared Hohlt is an editor at New York magazine.