The torture controversy surrounding Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty just won’t go away. Once considered an Oscar frontrunner, the film’s potential awards season stature has taken a major hit due to the criticism from numerous publications (like The Huffington Post and Salon), and even three U.S. Senators. The film has been branded with the accusation that, by indicating key intelligence was acquired via “enhanced interrogation” techniques that led to the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011, Zero Dark Thirty is not only endorsing torture, but perpetuating the myth that it’s an effective intelligence-gathering method. While the U.S. government did endorse torture in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, said policies never actually led to the discovery of Osama bin Laden.
Bigelow responded to the controversy Wednesday in an op-ed essay in The Los Angeles Times, in which she condemned torture but defended the right of her film, as a dramatization of actual events, to depict it. Here are some excerpts:”First of all: I support every American’s 1st Amendment right to create works of art and speak their conscience without government interference or harassment. As a lifelong pacifist, I support all protests against the use of torture, and, quite simply, inhumane treatment of any kind. But I do wonder if some of the sentiments alternately expressed about the film might be more appropriately directed at those who instituted and ordered these U.S. policies, as opposed to a motion picture that brings the story to the screen…”
“On a practical and political level, it does seem illogical to me to make a case against torture by ignoring or denying the role it played in U.S. counter-terrorism policy and practices.”
“Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt. That doesn’t mean it was the key to finding Bin Laden. It means it is a part of the story we couldn’t ignore. War, obviously, isn’t pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences…”
“Bin Laden wasn’t defeated by superheroes zooming down from the sky; he was defeated by ordinary Americans who fought bravely even as they sometimes crossed moral lines, who labored greatly and intently, who gave all of themselves in both victory and defeat, in life and in death, for the defense of this nation.”You could easily say that Zero Dark Thirty‘s overall outlook is jingoistic, especially once Jessica Chastain’s Maya says such stylishly badass things like, “I’m the motherf***er who found the place, sir.” But it does seem hard to argue with Bigelow’s point that criticizing the film for its depiction of torture should be a lesser priority for anti-torture advocates than protesting those government officials who actually sanctioned those policies, and about whom there’s been little investigation. Maybe it’s really that those who’ve been rankled by the film would rather the darker aspects of America’s “War on Terror” be whitewashed and forgotten. But whatever the mentality, the target of accusation should never be the artist who, strives only to paint a picture (ugly though it may be).
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
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