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Sony chief hits back at academy voter's anti-'Zero Dark' campaign

January 11, 2013|By Steven Zeitchik and Nicole Sperling | This post has been updated, as indicated below.
  • Actor David Clennon, dressed as the Ghost of Jacob Marley, left, waits to warn Mayor Richard Riordan to stop opposing the pending living wage ordinance in December 1996. Clennon, an Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences member, is now taking action against "Zero Dark Thirty."
Actor David Clennon, dressed as the Ghost of Jacob Marley, left, waits to… (Los Angeles Times )

Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal has replied swiftly and strongly to a member of the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences who said he would not vote for “Zero Dark Thirty” in any Oscar category because of the film’s torture scenes.

“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,” Pascal said in a statement Friday, responding to an event organized by the character actor David Clennon, who is a member of the academy. “This film should be judged free of partisanship. To punish an artist's right of expression is abhorrent.”

A little-known player in TV shows such as “thirtysomething” and films such as "J. Edgar," Clennon held an event in downtown Los Angeles with leaders of a consortium of anti-torture groups, including branches of the ACLU. At the event, Clennon was slated to read a statement that read, in part, "I firmly believe that the film ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ promotes the acceptance of the crime of torture, as a legitimate weapon in America's so-called War on Terror.... Following my conscience, I will not vote for 'Zero Dark Thirty' in any category, including best picture, best screenplay or best actress.” The film received a total of five Oscar nominations, though no directing nomination for Kathryn Bigelow.

According to a press release, Clennon was being joined in the campaign by the actors Ed Asner and Martin Sheen and asked academy members members to “sign on to the letter,” without specifying the contents of that letter. The release also included a quote attributed to Asner: "One of the brightest female directors in the business is in danger of becoming part of the system." Clennon did not respond to a request for comment left with his agent.

[Update, 6:15 p.m., Jan. 11: In an email exchange, Clennon pointed a reporter to this article he wrote for the website Truthout.org to sum up his viewpoint on the matter. He added: "I hope a little Hollywood dust-up doesn't distract us from the real issue. Which is a real, grievous crime against humanity. The real-life models for Dan and Maya [two CIA operatives in the film] have disgraced, shamed our country. I could be very wrong, but I don't think 'Zero' will become a film classic. Torture is the issue. Films like 'Zero Dark Thirty' and shows like '24' aren't important in themselves. They just help to normalize the unthinkable. It would really be tragic if we forget the unthinkable."]

“Zero Dark Thirty” has faced intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill over its torture scenes, with Senate Intelligence Committee members Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) condemning the film for allegedly misrepresenting the effectiveness of torture in the pursuit of Osama bin Laden and calling for the studio to acknowledge that the movie was fictional. The senators also called for an investigation into the CIA’s cooperation with the filmmakers.

These statements mark Pascal’s first public comments since the torture controversy began; previously, the studio released a statement on behalf of Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal saying that the movie does not endorse torture.

Clennon, who portrayed Miles on the TV series "thirtysomething," has a history of making political stands, sometimes in gimmicky fashion. In 1996 he appeared at City Hall dressed as the ghost of Jacob Marley to protest in favor of a living wage ordinance.

Under academy bylaws, nominees are prohibited from campaigning for or against a movie. But the organization has no restriction on members who are not affiliated with a particular film, though it is discouraged. An academy spokeswoman declined to comment on Friday’s event.

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