The Corner

Bigelow Defends Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty has been targeted by protests and a coordinated campaign against its Oscar nominations for its depiction of enhanced interrogations. Last night, Kathryn Bigelow, the director of the film, released a statement defending her movie:

Now that Zero Dark Thirty has appeared in cinemas nationwide, many people have asked me if I was surprised by the brouhaha that surrounded the film while it was still in limited release, when many thoughtful people were characterizing it in wildly contradictory ways.

The Times asked me to elaborate on recent statements I’ve made in response to these issues. I’m not sure I have anything new to add, but I can try to be concise and clear.

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.

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.

As someone who saw Zero Dark Thirty, I would like to vouch for Bigelow’s assertion — the movie is not an endorsement of torture as many have claimed. Instead, the film merely presents it as an aspect of our counterterrorism operations in the early 2000s, and the intelligence operatives are in fact depicted dealing with difficulties in determining whether the information they glean from the interrogations is accurate. Zero Dark Thirty is an apolitical film that grippingly portrays the detective work by our intelligence agencies in finding Osama bin Laden. 


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