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Making Sense Of The ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Torture Brouhaha; Bigelow Pens Essay In Response

Making Sense Of The 'Zero Dark Thirty' Torture Brouhaha; Bigelow Pens Essay In Response

An aside, as I go through my news feed this morning… No it’s not *black film* specifically, but it’s an issue that I think affects all filmmakers regardless of race or ethnicity. 

In short, I’m sure you’re all familiar with the brouhaha over Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty – specifically, the debate over its depiction of torture used in the hunt for Osama bin Laden –  and the argument that the film’s depictions of actual scenes of torture, suggest that the filmmakers endorse the use of torture; an argument I just don’t quite understand.

In response to all of that, director Kathryn Bigelow penned an op-ed for the L.A. Times, addressing the criticism she’s faced over the last few months, since the film debuted commercially, which was published on the paper’s website yesterday.

Here’s a crucial piece of it:

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. Those of us who work in the arts know that depiction is not endorsement. If it was, no artist would be able to paint inhumane practices, no author could write about them, and no filmmaker could delve into the thorny subjects of our time. This is an important principle to stand up for, and it bears repeating. For confusing depiction with endorsement is the first step toward chilling any American artist’s ability and right to shine a light on dark deeds, especially when those deeds are cloaked in layers of secrecy and government obfuscation.

I couldn’t agree more, and this feels like an engineered campaign against (or assault on) the film than anything that I’d call genuine concern or criticism by those who oppose it. 

Would those same pundits argue that every film depicting gun violence endorses gun violence? Or every film depicting rape, endorses rape?

What’s even more important here is that this isn’t some fictionalized account of American history like some other films released in the last 12 months; Mark Boal’s screenplay was based on extensive research – interviews and firsthand accounts with intelligence and military sources, to start.

And does anyone still really believe that the US has never used torture as a means of extracting information, especially at times of war? Is anyone still that naive?

The film doesn’t suggest that torture was the sole means by which bin Laden was found, but it was one of the many *tools* utilized.

As Bigelow adds in her essay:

It means it [torture] 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. 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. 

Like I said, this feels more like a carefully orchestrated attack against the film and its creators, and I wonder if it’s all rooted in the ongoing discussion about the depiction of violence in entertainment as a potential influence on violence in real life.

Or maybe it also all serves as a caution to any other filmmakers who are planning to tackle similar subject matter in future films.

I also wonder if it has contributed to the fact that neither director Bigelow nor screenwriter Boal was nominated for an Academy Award for their damn good work in the film – one of the best I saw in 2012. 

I liked its very matter-of-fact approach, free of any embellishments. Clearly, it was told from an American POV, but that’s the angle the filmmakers chose, and I don’t think the film took a particular stance, whether in favor of, or in opposition to a war that was taking place at the time (even though most of us were probably unaware of it, as we went about our daily lives). 

So I’m perplexed by all the noise, and the fact that Bigelow needed to pen this essay for the L.A. Times – that the depiction of an act in a work of art (film, TV, literature, music, etc) equates to an endorsement of it, is puzzling to me. I don’t have to do research to state that history is loaded with works of art of all kinds that depict a wide variety of scenes of man at his best and at his worst. Should we now carefully go through each work (as well as those made from here on) and challenge their motivations?

Should you, as a filmmaker, be concerned about how this might affect the choices you make as you embark on your next project, whatever it is?

Or, has this all been fabricated (with the consent of the filmmakers) to generate discussion around the film, in order to tickle the curiosity of audiences who may have otherwise ignored it, with the hope that it will all positively affect box office?

Or am I just missing something…?

Read the full L.A. Times piece HERE.

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Bigelow is in denial. She refuses to accept the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation and continues to OBFUSCATE. Bigelow, The Tool –


Bigelow picked up a Directors Guild Award nomination. However, she still has to contend with Ang Lee, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hooper, and Ben Affleck in the Oustanding Director category. That's a tough field. I'm glad to see a woman recognized and Bigelow has definitely earned it. Still, I'm Ang Lee all the way this year.


"this feels like an engineered campaign against (or assault on) the film than anything that I'd call genuine concern or criticism by those who oppose it"
Seriously?! Look, you can agree or disagree with the criticism of the film, and you can agree or disagree with Bigelow's defense, but to put forward some sort of conspiratorial claim questioning the authenticity of the film's critics is both completely unfounded and just plain rude. Whether you agree with them or not, the critics are without a doubt coming from a place of genuine concern over the issue of torture and its representation on screen. Additionally, none of those critics are making the argument that Bigelow is pretending that they are. Not a single one of them has claimed that torture shouldn't be depicted or referred to on screen. Contrary to Bigelow's ridiculous assertion that her critics want to "[ignore] or [deny] the role [torture] played in U.S. counter-terrorism policy and practices," many of them have actually written extensively about that role in the past, and have spent a great deal of effort to make it more visible. Rather than have films ignore it, they want to see that reality depicted in a truthful manner, which they feel Bigelow doesn't do. Her "response" is nothing but a strawman argument that completely dodges all the real criticisms made about the film, instead going on and on about how "depiction is not endorsement" – a point none of her critics (nor anyone in their right mind) would disagree with. If you truly are perplexed by why people are bothered by the film, and truly do want to know what you're missing, I'd recommend reading Steve Coll's piece on the NY Review of Books website. Coll won the Pulitzer prize for his book "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001," widely considered the best book on the pre-history of Al Qaeda and 9/11. His article on the film is by far the best critique of its depiction of torture I've read, and he basically goes point by point in showing how the film misrepresents the reality of how torture was used in the hunt for Bin Laden. Maybe you'll still disagree with Coll and think the film's depiction of torture doesn't deserve the criticism it's gotten. That's fine. But I'd much rather see you respond to the actual criticisms (and possibly get a real dialogue going with your audience) than to just parrot Bigelow in positing some phantom group of weirdos who's angry with her because they think that showing torture means supporting it. Those people don't exist.


"I also wonder if it has contributed to the fact that neither director Bigelow nor screenwriter Boal was nominated for an Academy Award for their damn good work in the film – one of the best I saw in 2012. "

Boal was nominated…. twice actually (one as a producer)… and so was Bigelow (also as a producer)

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