I watched Zero Dark Thirty today. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who won an Academy Award for directing the movie The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty depicts the CIA manhunt for Osama bin Laden over nearly a decade.
When I first saw the trailer for Zero Dark Thirty in the theater a while ago, I thought to myself how much I didn’t want to watch that film. Not in the theater anyways. Hunting down OBL was a good thing and I’m not suggesting otherwise (check out my post about the day OBL was killed). I just didn’t think I would want to be in a darkened theater full of people cheering killing someone.
However, due to the controversy surrounding the film, I really wanted to check it out for myself.
Some of the controversy stems from how the movie glorifies torture. It justifies the use and the extent of it because, as the movie shows, torture was key in eventually finding the whereabouts of OBL. Therefore, viewers will come away from this movie with a perspective that torture is necessary. The issue is that in real life, torture played no part in garnering useful information on the whereabouts of OBL.
Sure, “it’s just a movie” but that argument doesn’t hold for a couple of the reasons that journalist Glenn Greenwald puts forth in his article Zero Dark Thirty: CIA hagiography, pernicious propaganda:
First, this excuse completely contradicts what the filmmakers themselves say about what they are doing. Bigelow has been praising herself for the “journalistic” approach she has taken to depicting these events. The film’s first screen assures viewers that it is all “based on first hand accounts of actual events”. You can’t claim you’re doing journalism and then scream “art” to justify radical inaccuracies. Serwer aptly noted the manipulative shell-game driving this: “If you’re thinking of giving them an award, Zero Dark Thirty is ‘history’; if you’re a journalist asking a question about a factual error in the film, it’s just a movie.”
Second, the very idea that this is some sort of apolitical work of art is ludicrous. The film is about the two most politicized events of the last decade: the 9/11 attack (which it starts with) and the killing of bin Laden (which it ends with). George Bush got re-elected running on the former, while Obama just got re-elected running on the latter. It was made with the close cooperation of the CIA, Pentagon and White House. Everything about this film – its subject, its claims, its mode of production, its implications – are political to its core. It does not have an apolitical bone in its body. Demanding that political considerations be excluded from how this film is judged is nonsensical; it’s a political film from start to finish.
He has more to say about that and a lot more so definitely read his entire article. Also check out this article by Jane Mayer, a journalist who is an expert on torture, titled Zero Conscience in “Zero Dark Thirty”.
Sometimes I’ll look past inaccuracies if the movie itself is good. I’m kind of a sell out that way. But I can’t do that this time because portraying torture as a necessary evil can have huge ramifications on policy and what we as a nation are willing to do.
Also, and I know this places me in the minority, I didn’t even enjoy the movie enough to say that it was worth viewing.
And I thought I would too! I thought I would be sitting here, writing that fine, the torture scenes made me queasy and it didn’t even happen that way but dagnabbit, what a good movie! I was even prepared for the jingoistic nature of this film and figured people would cheer like with what happened during Argo (which I thought was a better movie, by the way). But none of that happened.
I even wore my Airport Uniform just in case I got weird stares by anyone because, let’s be honest, if I’m going to watch a movie where all the bad guys are Muslim, I best be prepared. My Airport Uniform consists of my hoodie, Chuck Taylors, and either my Superman shirt or my other shirt depicting a group of superheroes. This look, I like to believe, really sells the “Hey, I’m one of y’all, y’know?” image that I really need sometimes. In the airport, while donning this uniform, I will also make sure to smile more and speak slightly differently, enunciating more. Yes, I’m slightly strange. You’re just figuring this out now?
Bottom line, if you watch Zero Dark Thirty, be very aware of the issues that surround it and take responsibility of educating yourself. Don’t be one of those people who gets spoon fed their morals and teachings from movies.
Side Note: In his article, Glenn Greenwald mentions that the agent that the composite of the character of Maya played by Jennifer Chastain was based on was actually in part responsible for the “kidnapping, drugging, and torture” of Khalid El-Masri, who was an innocent man held by the CIA in 2003. Khalid El-Masri’s story appears in the the book Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustices, published by McSweeneys.
Side, Side Note: I got to meet Glenn Greenwald at the annual CAIR Banquet in the Bay Area in November. He signed a copy of his book for me (and for the tons of other people in line) and we talked for about 30 seconds. I’m pretty sure that makes us best friends now. FYI.