'Zero Dark Thirty' Director: Film Couldn't Ignore Torture

Kathryn Bigelow addresses criticism in open letter

January 16, 2013 10:45 AM ET
Kathryn Bigelow
Kathryn Bigelow
Tiffany Rose/Getty Images

In a piece penned for the Los Angeles Times, director Kathryn Bigelow addressed the criticism directed at her latest film, Zero Dark Thirty, which tells the story of the manhunt for Osama bin Laden, saying the movie could not ignore the subject of torture.

"As for what I personally believe, which has been the subject of inquiries, accusations and speculation, I think Osama bin Laden was found due to ingenious detective work," Bigelow wrote. "Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt."

Secrets of 'Zero Dark Thirty'

The movie has drawn fierce criticisms for its depictions of torture, with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and John McCain (R-Arizona)
calling them "grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location of" bin Laden. A Senate panel is now investigating correspondence between CIA officials and Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, and whether the two were given "inappropriate" access to secret material.

In her letter, Bigelow addressed those concerns, positing that they "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."

Calling herself a "pacifist" as well as a supporter of every American's right to the First Amendment, Bigelow added that depiction is not the same as endorsement, and that confusing the two "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." The director pointed to Hollywood's long tradition of "searing war films" that wouldn't have been possible if directors had avoided showing "the harsh realities of combat.

"On a practical and political level, it does seem illogical to me to make a case against torture by ignoring or denying the role it played in U.S. counter-terrorism policy and practices," she continued.

Bigelow closed her letter by saying that she and her filmmaking team "were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences," and acknowledged both those who lost their lives on 9/11 and in other terrorist attacks, as well as the work of those in the military and intelligence community who risked their lives in the fight against terrorism.

"Bin Laden wasn't defeated by superheroes zooming down from the sky," she wrote. "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."

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