[Marxism] Opposition emerges in film industry to Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jan 14 06:40:07 MST 2013

Opposition emerges in film industry to Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty
By David Walsh
14 January 2013

Voices of protest have been raised in Hollywood against Kathryn 
Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, an account of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, 
which endorses the actions of the Central Intelligence Agency, the US 
military and the systematic use of torture.

In a statement published January 9 in Truthout (“And the Academy Award 
for the Promotion of Torture Goes to …”), actor David Clennon explains, 
“I'm a member of Hollywood’s Motion Picture Academy. At the risk of 
being expelled for disclosing my intentions, I will not be voting for 
Zero Dark Thirty—in any Academy Awards category.”

Clennon goes on, “Everyone who contributes skill and energy to a motion 
picture—including actors—shares responsibility for the impressions the 
picture makes and the ideas it expresses. … So Jessica Chastain won't 
get my vote for Best Actress. With her beauty and her 
tough-but-vulnerable posturing, she almost succeeds in making extreme 
brutality look weirdly heroic.”

The Emmy-award winning actor (best known for his role on television’s 
thirtysomething) writes, “If, in fact, torture is a crime (a mortal sin, 
if you will)—a signal of a nation's descent into depravity—then it 
doesn't matter whether it ‘works’ or not. Zero Dark Thirty condones 
torture. … If the deeply racist Birth of a Nation was released today, 
would we vote to honor it? Would we give an award to [German filmmaker] 
Leni Riefenstahl's brilliant pro-Nazi documentary, Triumph of the Will?”

It is entirely to his credit that Clennon has made this statement, and 
spoken out against Bigelow’s film, which has received almost universal, 
shameful praise from the US media and its so-called “film critics.”

According to CBS’s Los Angeles affiliate station, veteran actors Martin 
Sheen and Ed Asner have also appealed “to other actors to vote their 
conscience on whether to reward the movie [Zero Dark Thirty] with a win 
on Oscar night.”

Sony Chairman Amy Pascal issued a defensive statement in support of her 
studio’s film, asserting, “Zero Dark Thirty does not advocate torture. 
To not include that part of history would have been irresponsible and 
inaccurate. We fully support Kathryn Bigelow and [screenwriter] Mark 
Boal and stand behind this extraordinary movie.”

Only a multi-millionaire Hollywood film executive, who thinks she can 
make up reality as she goes along, could have added this preposterous 
and hypocritical comment: “We are outraged that any responsible member 
of the Academy would use their voting status in AMPAS as a platform to 
advance their own political agenda. … To punish an Artist’s right of 
expression is abhorrent. This community, more than any other, should 
know how reprehensible that is.”

One feels safe in suggesting that if a new version of the Hollywood 
anticommunist blacklist were to be launched tomorrow, the overwhelming 
majority of studio chiefs would sign up without a moment’s hesitation.

Clennon’s public statement and related events no doubt indicate 
revulsion against Bigelow’s film within sections of the industry. That 
she was left out of the Academy Awards best director nominations, 
announced last week, was an indication of some degree of opposition. 
Bigelow was hailed as the first woman to win an Oscar for best director 
for The Hurt Locker in 2010. At the time, entirely false claims were 
made as to that work’s “anti-war” credentials.

This time around, with even less to go on, various liberal and “left” 
figures insist that Bigelow is being subjected to unfair attacks.

Scott Mendelson, for example, on the Huffington Post website, writes 
that Bigelow has “been called a warmonger, an apologist, and yes, a 
Nazi. … All because Bigelow and Boal didn't spoon-feed their opinions to 
the audience in a way that made for easy digestion. They didn’t have a 
fictionalized scene where a character explicitly explains to the 
audience how they got each piece of vital information over the eight 
years during which the film takes place. They trusted the audience to 
make the connections.”

Filmmaker Michael Moore has chimed in, disgracefully, with support for 
Bigelow as part of a wider and equally disgraceful defense of the Obama 
administration. On Twitter January 9, Moore asserted, “I’m sorry, but 
anyone who claims that Zero Dark Thirty endorses torture either hasn't 
seen the movie or wasn't paying attention.

“Zero Dark 30 makes it clear: 7 yrs of torture under [George W.] Bush 
doesn't find Osama bin Laden. [Barack] Obama elected, torture stops, 
guess what? WE FIND BIN LADEN.”

Moore’s statement fully accepts the so-called “war on terror,” which his 
own Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) associated with the American elite’s drive 
for global domination. His miserable comments help explain how and why 
the official anti-war movement has folded up its tent and gone away 
under Obama.

Moore went on to say, “Also, this is a MOVIE. It is a work of art & 
tells a great story. ‘Depiction does not imply endorsement,’ says the 
director & she's right.”

He was paraphrasing Bigelow’s comment at the New York Film Critics Award 
ceremony earlier this month: “I thankfully want to say that I’m standing 
in a room of people who understand that depiction is not endorsement.”

It is difficult to conceive of a more dishonest or self-deluded comment. 
Mendelson, Moore and Bigelow, first of all, leave out one minor detail: 
Zero Dark Thirty (which borrows its very title from the US military) was 
developed and made with the fullest cooperation of the military, the CIA 
and the highest echelons of the American government. Is it likely that 
the latter would have facilitated a work that offered criticism of their 

As we reported last May, Bigelow and screenwriter Boal, a former 
“embedded reporter” in Iraq in 2004, were given “top-level access” to 
those involved in the bin Laden killing. They were even offered the 
opportunity, which they jumped at, to meet with a member of the US Navy 
Seal death squad involved in the assassination.

Right-wing media watchdog Judicial Watch, for its own purposes, obtained 
hundreds of pages of emails and transcripts of conversations, including 
a July 14, 2011 meeting attended by Bigelow, Boal, Under Secretary of 
Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers and other Defense Department 
officials. The transcript reveals that Boal had previously held 
discussions with top administration officials, including Obama’s Chief 
Counterterrorism Advisor John O. Brennan and Deputy National Security 
Advisor Denis McDonough. Brennan, the man in charge of the murderous 
drone program, has recently been nominated as CIA director.

The transcripts and emails reveal Bigelow and Boal as accomplices of 
these top murderers in the US military and intelligence apparatus.

In an email to Vickers on June 9, 2011, for example, Pentagon media 
official Robert Mehal spoke glowingly of Boal, who had promised not to 
reveal any military secrets, adding “that he [Boal] was proud of not 
giving anything away in Hurt Locker.” Furthermore, the screenwriter had 
explained that he wanted “to highlight the great 
cooperation/coordination between CIA/DoD [Department of Defense] and the 
extensive Intel work (decade) that culminated in the OP.” Boal told 
Mehal that assassinating bin Laden was a “gutsy decision” by Obama.

When Vickers, at the July 14, 2011 meeting, told Bigelow and Boal that 
the military would make available to them “a guy … who was involved from 
the beginning as a planner, a SEAL Team 6 Operator and Commander,” Boal 
responded, “That’s dynamite,” and Bigelow put in, “That’s incredible.” 
At the end of the conversation, Bigelow told Vickers, “So wonderful 
meeting you.”

Bigelow, supported by Moore and others, claims Zero Dark Thirty is 
neutral in relation to the events it depicts. “The film doesn't have an 
agenda and it doesn't judge,” she told the media. “I wanted a 
boots-on-the-ground experience.”

This is spurious. Zero Dark Thirty tells its “great story” from the 
point of view of the CIA and its torturers. Its supposed objectivity is 
a self-conscious aesthetic stance. Bigelow has long been fascinated with 
violence and brutality and those bold enough to carry it out, without 
regard for commonplace concerns. (For example, this bit of sophomoric 
dialogue from anti-hero Bodhi [Patrick Swayze] in Bigelow’s 1991 Point 
Break: “See, we exist on a higher plane, you and I. We make our own 
rules. Why be a servant of the law ... when you can be its master?”)

We noted in regard to The Hurt Locker that the film “glories in and 
glamorizes violence, which the filmmaker associates with ‘heightened 
emotional responses.’ All of this, including its element of half-baked 
Nietzscheanism, is quite unhealthy and even sinister, but corresponds to 
definite moods within sections of what passes for a ‘radical’ 
intelligentsia in the US.” The Hurt Locker, we pointed out, “merely 
pauses now and then to meditate on the heavy price American soldiers pay 
for slaughtering Iraqi insurgents and citizens. As long as they pull 
long faces and show signs of fatigue and stress, US forces, as far as 
Bigelow is apparently concerned, can go right on killing and wreaking 

The same can be said, in spades, for the new film, with its 
pro-imperialist storyline and fascistic overtones.

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