Nearly three years since its release, “Zero Dark Thirty” is still causing controversy. Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal’s follow-up to their Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker” about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden attracted attention well before it was released, with some Republican politicians attacking the movie for attempting to influence the 2012 presidential election.
Tension continued to crank up when the movie was released, attracting criticism for what was perceived to be the film’s ‘pro-torture’ stance, as well as the extent to which Bigelow and Boal had worked with the CIA, and the possibility that they obtained classified information came under intense scrutiny. And now some of the details have finally emerged, thanks to a new report from Vice News.
Reporters Jason Leopold and Ky Henderson were granted access under the Freedom of Information Act for CIA documents about the agency and their link to the movie. They suggest that Boal (a former journalist) was in touch with CIA sources before the death of Bin Laden, having been researching an aborted version of the film about the ill-fated raid on the Tora Bora caves. He was granted access to a private awards ceremony honoring those who’d taken part in the killing of Bin Laden, where former CIA head Leon Panetta (played by James Gandolfini in the movie) revealed classified information in the speech.
BIgelow and Boal then met with at least ten CIA officers the next year, with the director and writer giving or offering gifts to some (some of the gifts were accepted, some of which were refused either by the agents or by a CIA board). Boal also vetted his script with CIA officers and public affairs officials “so that [they] could determine if the script inadvertently exposed any sensitivities,” with details such as the presence of dogs in ‘enhanced interrogation’ scenes being removed because the CIA denied that they ever took place.
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Perhaps because it’s several years since the film hit, or perhaps it’s because there’s no obvious smoking gun in Vice’s piece, but it’s difficult to be outraged about the new information here. Bigelow and Boal aren’t elected officials. They’re filmmakers striving for something close to authenticity, and any ethical violations seem to lie at the feet of the CIA.
It might have been one thing if the finished film was unrepentant pro-CIA propaganda, but as Bigelow says, “confusing depiction with endorsement is the first step toward chilling any American artist’s ability and right to shine a light on dark deeds.” “Zero Dark Thirty” is as much as anything a movie about the cost incurred upon the country’s reputation of the means they took to find Bin Laden, and taking it as anything else is a wilful misreading of the actual movie.
But we had all these arguments three years ago. Agree? Disagree? Read the full Vice report over there, and let us know your thoughts.