Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th December 2012
The makers of “Zero Dark Thirty” may have just learned that there is such a thing as bad publicity. Peter Bergen (CNN) reports:
On Wednesday, three senior U.S. senators sent Michael Lynton, the CEO of Sony Pictures, a letter about “Zero Dark Thirty,” the much-discussed new movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, which described the film as “grossly inaccurate and misleading.”
…We understand that the film is fiction, but it opens with the words “based on first-hand accounts of actual events” and there has been significant media coverage of the CIA’s cooperation with the screenwriters. As you know, the film graphically depicts CIA officers repeatedly torturing detainees and then credits these detainees with providing critical lead information on the courier that led to the Usama Bin Laden. Regardless of what message the filmmakers intended to convey, the movie clearly implies that the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques were effective in eliciting important information related to a courier for Usama Bin Laden. We have reviewed CIA records and know that this is incorrect.
Zero Dark Thirty is factually inaccurate, and we believe that you have an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Usama Bin Laden is not based on the facts, but rather part of the film’s fictional narrative….
LA Times reporters Zeitchik and Keegan cut to the chase as far as Hollywood is concerned:
…a bipartisan thumbs-down from Washington may dim the once-bright Oscar chances for Kathryn Bigelow‘s fact-based thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. “You believe when watching this movie that waterboarding and torture leads to information that leads then to the elimination of Osama bin Laden. That’s not the case,” McCain said on CNN’s “The Situation Room,” adding that torture had yielded false information from detainees. The former prisoner of war explained that he was speaking out because “movies, particularly by very highly credentialed producers, directors and cast, [do] have an effect on public opinion — not only in the United States but around the world.”
Zeitchik and Keegan continue, apparently not ironically,
The slam — and on a subject as provocative as torture — is part of a public relations nightmare in an industry where perception often trumps reality.
…by which they seem to mean criticisms from the news cycle trumping box office receipts and cinematographic artistry. If so, karma may be a bitch in this case, given that “perception trumping reality” is what the movie makers (arguably) did to position their movie as an Oscar-bait, kinda-sorta-documentary “based on first-hand accounts of actual events,” mainly-sorta-blockbuster in the first place.
Yet there’s something that doesn’t sit well about the senators’ position here either. I don’t agree with the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, who clutches at his pearls and calls the senators’ letter “intemperate” and suggests the senators’ position “sounds like censorship.” As to the former: good grief, who cares? But as to the latter: first, “sounds like” ain’t “is.” Second, it doesn’t even sound like it: the senators suggest setting the record straight — no more — about the movie’s lack of veracity, as they rightly (I suspect*) see it, on the subject of the paltry role that CIA depravity ultimately played in locating Bin Laden.