Share on Google Plus Share on Twitter Share on Facebook 4 Share on LinkedIn Share on PInterest Share on Fark! Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon Tell A Friend 1 (5 Shares)  
Printer Friendly Page Save As Favorite View Favorites View Article Stats   22 comments

OpEdNews Op Eds

A letter to Kathryn Bigelow on Zero Dark Thirty's apology for torture

By (about the author)     Permalink
Related Topic(s): ; ; ; ; ; ; ; , Add Tags Add to My Group(s)

Well Said 8   Must Read 7   Valuable 5  
View Ratings | Rate It

opednews.com Headlined to H2 1/4/13

Become a Fan
  (50 fans)
Cross-posted from The Guardian

By peddling the lie that CIA detentions led to Bin Laden's killing, you have become a Leni Riefenstahl-like propagandist of torture

Kathryn Bigelow
Director Kathryn Bigelow holds her 2010 Academy Award for The Hurt Locker. Photograph: Paul Buck/EPA

Dear Kathryn Bigelow,

The Hurt Locker was a beautiful, brave film; many young women in film were inspired as they watched you become the first woman ever to win an Oscar for directing. But with Zero Dark Thirty, you have attained a different kind of distinction.

Your film Zero Dark Thirty is a huge hit here. But in falsely justifying, in scene after scene, the torture of detainees in "the global war on terror," Zero Dark Thirty is a gorgeously-shot, two-hour ad for keeping intelligence agents who committed crimes against Guantanamo prisoners out of jail. It makes heroes and heroines out of people who committed violent crimes against other people based on their race -- something that has historical precedent. 

Your film claims, in many scenes, that CIA torture was redeemed by the "information" it "secured," information that, according to your script, led to Bin Laden's capture. This narrative is a form of manufacture of innocence to mask a great crime: what your script blithely calls "the detainee program."

What led to this amoral compromising of your film-making?

Could some of the seduction be financing? It is very hard to get a film without a pro-military message, such as The Hurt Locker, funded and financed. But according to sources in the film industry, the more pro-military your message is, the more kinds of help you currently can get: from personnel, to sets, to technology -- a point I made in my argument about the recent militarized Katy Perry video.

It seems implausible that scenes such as those involving two top-secret, futuristic helicopters could be made without Pentagon help, for example. If the film received that kind of undisclosed, in-kind support from the defense department, then that would free up million of dollars for the gigantic ad campaign that a film like this needs to compete to win audience.

This also sets a dangerous precedent: we can be sure, with the "propaganda amendment" of the 2013 NDAA, just signed into law by the president, that the future will hold much more overt corruption of Hollywood and the rest of US pop culture. This amendment legalizes something that has been illegal for decades: the direct funding of pro-government or pro-military messaging in media, without disclosure, aimed at American citizens.

Then, there is the James Frey factor. You claim that your film is "based on real events," and in interviews, you insist that it is a mixture of fact and fiction, "part documentary." "Real," "true," and even "documentary," are big and important words. By claiming such terms, you generate media and sales traction -- on a mendacious basis. 

There are filmmakers who work very hard to produce films that are actually "based on real events": they are called documentarians. Alex Gibney, in Taxi to the Dark Side, and Rory Kennedy, in Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, have both produced true and sourceable documentary films about what your script blithely calls "the detainee program" -- that is, the regime of torture to generate false confessions at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib -- which your script claims led straight to Bin Laden.

Fine, fellow reporter: produce your sources. Provide your evidence that torture produced lifesaving -- or any -- worthwhile intelligence.

But you can't present evidence for this claim. Because it does not exist.

Five decades of research, cited in the 2008 documentary The End of America, confirm that torture does not work. Robert Fisk provides another summary of that categorical conclusion. And this 2011 account from Human Rights First rebuts the very premise of Zero Dark Thirty.

Your actors complain about detainees' representation by lawyers -- suggesting that these do-gooders in suits endanger the rest of us. I have been to see your "detainee program" firsthand. The prisoners, whom your film describes as being "lawyered up," meet with those lawyers in rooms that are wired for sound; yet, those lawyers can't tell the world what happened to their clients -- because the descriptions of the very torture these men endured are classified.

I have seen the room where the military tribunal takes the "testimony" from people swept up in a program that gave $5,000 bounties to desperately poor Afghanis to incentivize their turning-in innocent neighbors. The chairs have shackles to the floor, and are placed in twos, so that one prisoner can be threatened to make him falsely condemn the second.

I have seen the expensive video system in the courtroom where -- though Guantanamo spokesmen have told the world's press since its opening that witnesses' accounts are brought in "whenever reasonable" -- the monitor on the system has never been turned on once: a monitor that could actually let someone in Pakistan testify to say, "hey, that is the wrong guy." (By the way, you left out the scene where the CIA dude sodomizes the wrong guy: Khaled el-Masri, "the German citizen unfortunate enough to have a similar name to a militant named Khaled al-Masri.")

In a time of darkness in America, you are being feted by Hollywood, and hailed by major media. But to me, the path your career has now taken reminds of no one so much as that other female film pioneer who became, eventually, an apologist for evil: Leni Riefenstahl. Riefenstahl's 1935 Triumph of the Will, which glorified Nazi military power, was a massive hit in Germany. Riefenstahl was the first female film director to be hailed worldwide.

Leni Riefenstahl at Nuremberg, 1934, directing Triumph of the Will
Leni Riefenstahl directing her crew at the Nazi part rally in Nuremberg, 1934, for her film Triumph of the Will. Photograph: Friedrich Rohrmann/EPA

It may seem extreme to make comparison with this other great, but profoundly compromised film-maker, but there are real echoes. When Riefenstahl began to glamorize the National Socialists, in the early 1930s, the Nazis' worst atrocities had not yet begun; yet abusive detention camps had already been opened to house political dissidents beyond the rule of law -- the equivalent of today's Guantanamo, Bagram base, and other unnameable CIA "black sites." And Riefenstahl was lionized by the German elites and acclaimed for her propaganda on behalf of Hitler's regime.

But the world changed. The ugliness of what she did could not, over time, be hidden. Americans, too, will wake up and see through Zero Dark Thirty's apologia for the regime's standard lies that this brutality is somehow necessary. When that happens, the same community that now applauds you will recoil.

Like Riefenstahl, you are a great artist. But now you will be remembered forever as torture's handmaiden.

 

http://naomiwolf.org/

Author, social critic, and political activist Naomi Wolf raises awareness of the pervasive inequities that exist in society and politics. She encourages people to take charge of their lives, voice their concerns and enact change. Wolf's landmark (more...)
 

Share on Google Plus Submit to Twitter Add this Page to Facebook! Share on LinkedIn Pin It! Add this Page to Fark! Submit to Reddit Submit to Stumble Upon

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Writers Guidelines

Contact Author Contact Editor View Authors' Articles

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

The People Versus The Police

How the US uses sexual humiliation as a political tool to control the masses

How the Mitt Romney video killed the American Dream

What the Occupy movement must learn from Sundance

The coming drone attack on America

The Shocking Truth About the Crackdown on Occupy

Comments

The time limit for entering new comments on this article has expired.

This limit can be removed. Our paid membership program is designed to give you many benefits, such as removing this time limit. To learn more, please click here.

Comments: Expand   Shrink   Hide  
11 people are discussing this page, with 22 comments
To view all comments:
Expand Comments
(Or you can set your preferences to show all comments, always)

can people like these elites sleep at night?... by Lester Shepherd on Saturday, Jan 5, 2013 at 8:57:22 AM
... by intotheabyss on Saturday, Jan 5, 2013 at 1:31:10 PM
nor will there ever be a legitimate defense for to... by Archie on Saturday, Jan 5, 2013 at 4:17:42 PM
neither Leni R. nor Kathrine B are  artists. ... by Mark Sashine on Saturday, Jan 5, 2013 at 4:53:12 PM
Something often misunderstood by art lightweights,... by muservin on Sunday, Jan 6, 2013 at 1:14:56 PM
You  are very educated. I was  following... by Mark Sashine on Sunday, Jan 6, 2013 at 4:38:25 PM
One of Russia's greatest geniuses, so he certainly... by muservin on Sunday, Jan 6, 2013 at 11:29:08 PM
I fully agree. I have a book by E. Panofski on Got... by Mark Sashine on Monday, Jan 7, 2013 at 6:30:14 AM
I'll take that as an offer I can't refuse!  I... by muservin on Tuesday, Jan 8, 2013 at 2:03:14 AM
We recently have seen the achievment of a Consumer... by muservin on Sunday, Jan 6, 2013 at 12:24:46 AM
What was the Jessica Lynch story and so many other... by Steven G. Erickson on Sunday, Jan 6, 2013 at 1:26:37 PM
Two simple words - Artistic License - yet they see... by Alex Howard on Monday, Jan 7, 2013 at 12:38:33 PM
 You contradict yourself: if this is about th... by Mark Sashine on Monday, Jan 7, 2013 at 1:24:04 PM
The stagecraft involved, and all the rest underlyi... by muservin on Tuesday, Jan 8, 2013 at 2:09:31 AM
By the way, Graham Greene, who wrote the original ... by muservin on Tuesday, Jan 8, 2013 at 2:26:26 AM
the  European  protagonist and Vietnames... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Jan 8, 2013 at 9:47:54 AM
That summarizes nicely the mindset of Alden Pyle.&... by muservin on Thursday, Jan 10, 2013 at 6:03:57 PM
"the quest to remove the world of a cancer called ... by Michael Rose on Tuesday, Jan 8, 2013 at 2:15:39 PM
I saw "Zero Dark Thirty" yesterday and felt such o... by Jill (Julia) Dalton on Tuesday, Jan 8, 2013 at 7:44:56 AM
seem to have lost conscience.  They do resemb... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Jan 8, 2013 at 8:09:45 AM
...and the comparison to Leni Riefenstahl is parti... by Alan Pyeatt on Thursday, Jan 10, 2013 at 5:22:04 PM
Thanks Naomi for such a good article. Many have co... by Davey Jones on Friday, Jan 11, 2013 at 1:59:28 PM