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Kathryn Bigelow defends 'Zero Dark Thirty' torture scenes

'Zero Dark Thirty' director Kathryn Bigelow addresses criticism of the film's depiction of torture in a written statement to The Times.

January 16, 2013|By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times

Under fire for the accuracy of "Zero Dark Thirty," director Kathryn Bigelow is defending the film's depiction of torture in the manhunt for Osama bin Laden.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and other lawmakers have criticized "Zero Dark," saying the film is "grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location" of Bin Laden. The lawmakers asked studio Sony Pictures to attach a disclaimer that the film is fictional.

In her most explicit comments on the controversy to date, Bigelow conceded that there are disagreements over certain specifics of the manhunt but insisted that torture was an undeniable part of the U.S. response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

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"Experts disagree sharply on the facts and particulars of the intelligence hunt, and doubtlessly that debate will continue," Bigelow wrote in a statement for The Times. "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. Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt. That doesn't mean it was the key to finding Bin Laden. It means it is a part of the story we couldn't ignore."

"War, obviously, isn't pretty," she added, "and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences."

"Zero Dark" has been lauded by critics and has the earmarks of a box-office hit — it garnered more than $24 million in the U.S. last weekend, its first of wide release. But the movie has lost momentum on the awards trail since the Washington condemnations began. Bigelow was not nominated for a directing Oscar, and the film only earned a single prize, for acting, at the Golden Globes on Sunday.

The movie opens with a title sequence that says the film is "based on firsthand accounts of actual events." Bigelow wrote that she believed the backlash toward her film may be misdirected.

"I do wonder if some of the sentiments alternately expressed about the film 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," she said.

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She added that "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."

Previously, she and her screenwriter, Mark Boal, have said that they "depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding Bin Laden. The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes."

Apart from scattered general responses on the promotional circuit and a short statement issued with Boal nearly month ago, Bigelow has stayed mum as questions about the film's politics have mounted. But those affiliated with the film appear to finally be growing more vocal.

On Friday, Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal responded forcefully to an anti-Oscar campaign from Hollywood actors including Ed Asner by saying that "to punish an artist's right of expression is abhorrent."

steve.zeitchik@latimes.com

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