The director and screenwriter Mark Boal have come under fire for showing scenes of waterboarding and prisoner humiliation during fictitious interrogations in the acclaimed new film and they have spent the weeks since its release defending the footage from politicians, family groups and celebrity pacifists.
And now they have support from an organisation representing the relatives of 9/11 victims.
Officials at 9/11 Parents and Families of Firefighters and WTC Victims have released a statement denouncing what they call critics' "censorship" of the scenes in Zero Dark Thirty, which chronicles the fictitious manhunt for the man behind the 2001 terror attacks, Osama bin Laden.
Taking aim at Senators John McCain, Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin, who are planning to launch an investigation into suggestions the CIA leaked documents to Bigelow and Boal to help them perfect the torture scenes, the group writes, "As a group of 9/11 families sharing a rare moment of justice and elation in the viewing of a film chronicling the search for and ultimate death of Osama Bin Laden, we find it deeply disturbing that some of our elected officials want to discourage other 9/11 families and the public from seeing this outstanding film.
"Politicians who have criticized the movie and made misleading claims about it, stand in the way of engaging a public dialogue for a stirring film which invokes feelings of patriotism and perseverance and honors our military, our country, and the victims of 9/11.
"We are greatly concerned that a few pundits, film critics and elected officials are badmouthing this movie because of the water boarding scenes and because this film directly confronts the enduring terrorist threat.
"We feel this is history - like it or not - and no effort should be made to rewrite or censor it for political correctness. Certainly there should be no organized boycott or suppression of films based on political differences. The word for that is censorship..."
The statement continues: "We applaud Mark Boal and Katherine (sic) Bigelow for presenting a film that honors history, our military, our country, and the victims of 9/11 - through the excellent portrayal of how the US government and Navy Seals worked to apprehend OBL... All citizens should see this film and make their own decisions about its value. This is what democracy is about."
The film, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, chronicles the decade-long U.S. manhunt for terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
The Oscar winner and her partner, writer Mark Boal, have been fighting claims they used top secret material to inform the film for the past year and now the Senate Intelligence Committee's chairwoman Dianne Feinstein has created a panel to review all conversations between the Bigelow and Boal and the CIA to determine if spy agency chiefs inappropriately shared classified material with the pair or are responsible for implying torture techniques helped lead to the death of bin Laden, according to Reuters.
Bigelow and Boal, who are not expected to be questioned by the panel members, have denied they had access to material they shouldn't have and recently defended the torture scenes that feature in the film.
The director said, "We depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding bin Laden. The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatises."
Kathryn Bigelow certainly has no shortage of press this week. Just as her film Zero Dark Thirty hits theaters, a debate regarding the film’s depiction of torture as a means of hunting down Osama Bin Laden has ignited, and now, acting C.I.A. director Mike Morell is adding fuel to that fire, releasing a memo to his employees and to the public laying out the issues he finds with Bigelow’s latest release.
Adding to comments made earlier this week, Morell states in his letter that “the film takes significant artistic license, while portraying itself as being historically accurate.” He goes on to make clear that the C.I.A. is aware that while they were part of the conversations that led to the film’s creation, they do not have license to control the final product. However, Morell makes sure to point out what he sees as egregious inaccuracies in the film, including what he says is a depiction of the investigation which hints that efforts to capture Bin Laden were made by only a few individuals instead of the whole of the C.I.A. and that “enhanced interrogation techniques” were the key method of obtaining information on the Al-Qaeda leader.
Morell’s comments add strength to complaints publicized earlier this week. On Wednesday, three senior U.S. senators (Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, and John McCain) sent a letter to Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton purporting that the studio’s film was “grossly inaccurate and misleading.”
Bigelow and her collaborator Mark Boal released a statement in response to the senators earlier this week as well, defending the content of the film:This was a 10-year intelligence operation brought to the screen in a two-and-a-half-hour film. We depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding bin Laden. The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes. One thing is clear: the single greatest factor in finding the world's most dangerous man was the hard work and dedication of the intelligence professionals who spent years working on this global effort. We encourage people to see the film before characterizing it.Of course, as they say, all press is good press, so perhaps all this chatter - no matter how negative - will bolster the film’s performance in the box office this weekend.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Sony Pictures]
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The most unbearable scene in Zero Dark Thirty — Kathryn Bigelow's intense, thrilling, and often difficult account of the extensive manhunt that lead to the killing of Osama bin Laden — isn't actually seen onscreen, but heard. The film opens to utter darkness, but we hear the still-horrifying sounds from 9/11. An airplane crashing, wailing sirens from first responders, and worst of all, a desperate, gut-wrenching phone call made from someone inside one of the burning towers. While Bigelow and her screenwriter Mark Boal have staunchly defended their film as neutral and void of any agenda other than relaying the facts, that godawful real-life phone call plays an unrelenting loop in your mind throughout the nearly three-hour runtime.
Yet that emotional, borderline manipulative opening sequence isn't the one that has people talking about the moral compass of the Oscar front-runner. It is the torture sequences that take place in the film that are getting the most attention. We've seen the images of 9/11 too many times, more than a person can bear. What we haven't seen, however, is the things that happened in blacked-out documents: the who, what, when, and where that lead to the eventual killing of bin Laden.
The first torture scene in Zero Dark Thirty, which takes place very early on in the film, is not an easy one to watch by any means. Not even with that terrible phone call looping in your mind. Even Maya (Jessica Chastain), the headstrong CIA operative who relentlessly leads the bin Laden hunt, has to look away as a prisoner is — among other things — waterboarded, stripped, and eventually placed in a coffin-sized box by his torturer, fellow CIA operative Dan (Jason Clarke, pictured). It is an unflinching sequence that leaves the viewer with uneasy questions to ask themselves.
It's a sequence that's not sitting well with some critics, and one that's especially not sitting well with some high ranking politicians who have seen the film. Senators John McCain (R), Dianne Feinstein (D), and Carl Levin (R) have expressed their dismay with the depiction of torture and the role it actually played in tracking down bin Laden. McCain, a member of the Bush Administration and a Vietnam veteran who endured torture himself, said the film made him feel "sick." In a letter penned to Sony Pictures chairman Michael Lynton, the three senators say they felt “deep disappointment” with the movie, and that "the film is grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location of [Osama] bin Laden.” They also called the film — which is currently being investigated for leaking classified information — as “factually inaccurate,” and “perpetuating a myth that torture is effective." They urge that the filmmakers and the studio have a "social and moral obligation" to get the facts straight.
The three continue to say that they worry that "the fundamental problem is that people who see Zero Dark Thirty will believe that the events it portrays are facts. The film therefore has the potential to shape American public opinion in a disturbing and misleading manner. Recent public opinion polls suggest that a narrow majority of Americans believe that torture can be justified as an effective form of intelligence gathering. This is false. We know that cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners is an unreliable and highly ineffective means of gathering intelligence."
This raises another set of questions entirely. Wouldn't Bigelow and Boal have received far worse criticism if they'd left torture, an undeniably ugly mark on American history, out entirely? Or did the filmmakers take far too many artistic liberties with the role torture played in tracking down bin Laden's courier, the man that would eventually lead them to finding the al Qaeda leader's compound, the very site where Seal Team Six would eventually kill the 9/11 mastermind? After all, this is a film that opens with a title card that it reads, “Based on first-hand accounts of actual events.”
In the New Yorker's scathing piece on the torture scenes in the film, titled "Zero Conscience in Zero Dark Thirty", Jane Meyer highlights two particular points of contention. The aforementioned torture scene depicted in real life the "F.B.I. agent present at the scene threw a fit, warned the C.I.A. contractor proposing the plan that it was illegal, counterproductive, and reprehensible. The fight went all the way to the top of the Bush Administration." Meyer argues that "Bigelow airbrushes out this showdown, as she does virtually the entire debate during the Bush years about the treatment of detainees." Meyer also points to the report from the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent shortly after bin Laden was killed, Leon Panetta, then the director of the C.I.A., sent a letter to Senator McCain, which stated that “we first learned about ‘the facilitator / courier’s nom de guerre’ from a detainee not in the C.I.A.’s custody.... “no detainee in C.I.A. custody revealed the facilitator / courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts.” In other words the information about the courier was not, as the film presents, from a tortured detainee.
While the concerns raised by the film's critics are certainly valid ones, it's a debate that's raged on in Hollywood time and time again. Where does fact and fiction collide in entertainment? Has there ever been an instance when a film based on true events hasn't embellished certain aspects of the story for dramatic value or altered the reality of the situation. (Even 2010's Best Picture winner, the far less button-pushing The King's Speech was criticized for accentuating "a gross falsification of history.") Zero Dark Thirty may play like a documentary at times, but in the end, it is a work of fiction based on facts.
There's also the overwhelming implication that the average viewer will walk away thinking torture is what lead to the eventual capture of Osama bin Laden. That without torture, no matter how grotesque or inhumane it was, the death of bin Laden would never have happened. Instead, what the film really presents is that the complicated issue of torture was a moving piece in a much larger puzzle. Tapping phone calls and bribing inside sources with fast cars were all morally ambiguous tactics that moved them slowly, but surely, to the ultimate end result. Implying that torture was the major factor in that decade-long manhunt is a disservice to the men and women who worked tirelessly, in so many different facets, that lead to bin Laden's death.
Zero Dark Thirty can be accused of plenty of things, including fabrication or uneasy to watch, but its overall importance about a chapter in American history and its impact on audiences is undeniable.
[Photo credit: Columbia Pictures]
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The movie, based on the real life hunt for terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, has come under fire from former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, as well as two Democratic Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin.
The pair condemned the moviemakers for suggesting information leading to bin Laden's capture was obtained using torture and they wrote an open letter to Sony Pictures chairman Michael Lynton, stating, "We understand that the film is fiction, but... there has been significant media coverage of the CIA's cooperation with the screenwriters... We are fans of many of your movies... but the fundamental problem is that people who see Zero Dark Thirty will believe that the events it portrays are facts... With the release of Zero Dark Thirty, the filmmakers and your production studio are perpetuating the myth that torture is effective. You have a social and moral obligation to get the facts right."
However, Oscar-winning director Bigelow has fiercely defended her movie, telling Thewrap.com, "The point was to immerse the audience in this landscape, not to pretend to debate policy. Was it difficult to shoot? Yes. Do I wish (torture) was not part of that history? Yes, but it was."
Screenwriter Boal adds, "The movie has been, and probably will continue to be, put in political boxes. Before we even wrote it, it was (branded) an (Barack) Obama campaign commercial, which was preposterous. And now it's pro-torture, which is preposterous... Everything we did has been misinterpreted, and continues to be...
"I'm not saying the film is a documentary of everything that happened, but it's being misread... Look at it as a movie and not a potential launching pad for a political statement."
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