Viewpoint: Bigelow film doesn’t support torture, just depicts it

By Josh Wucher

As a staunch supporter of the Hollywood left and liberals in general, I am disappointed in some of their behavior toward director Kathryn Bigelow because of her amazing film “Zero Dark Thirty.”

This Oscar-nominated thriller chronicles the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. The film has come under criticism for its depiction of the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques, with some saying the movie glorifies torture and shows how waterboarding was an effective tool to discovering bin Laden’s whereabouts.

On Jan. 9, David Clennon, an actor and member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, publicly called for other Academy members to boycott “Zero Dark Thirty” when voting because the film promotes torture.

“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,” Clennon wrote in an op-ed for the website “Torture is an appalling crime under any circumstances. Zero never acknowledges that torture is immoral and criminal. It does portray torture as getting results.”

Other actors such as Ed Asner and Martin Sheen echoed Clennon in their outright condemnation of “Zero Dark Thirty” and Bigelow. “One of the brightest female directors in the business is in danger of becoming part of the system,” Asner said in a press release. He and Sheen are appealing to other actors to vote their conscience on whether to reward the Best Picture nominee with an Oscar on Feb. 24.

The film’s Washington D.C. and Los Angeles premieres were met with picketers who belonged to left-wing human rights groups holding signs with messages such as “Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading.”

First off, the protesters and Academy members have every right under the First Amendment to voice their opinions of Bigelow and her film. However, I cannot idly sit by while their erroneous attacks and calls for boycotts remain in the public ether.

Yes, “Zero Dark Thirty” does show government operatives torturing alleged terrorist prisoners at CIA black sites.

The prisoners are subjected to hours of deafening heavy metal music, sleep deprivation and waterboarding among the interrogation tactics. It’s brutal and some of it is hard to watch, but the harsh reality is some of this treatment actually happened.

Now, like Bigelow, I disagree with the use of torture and support protests against it, but I do not believe the film glorifies torture nor seeks to show it as a successful means to an end.

In the film, the torture scenes take place in the early 2000s when the Bush administration sanctioned that sort of treatment, but the movie also depicts how it took several years after the interrogations to get real results. No character in the movie says, “We got bin Laden because we tortured terrorists.”

Yes, torture was used in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Yes, some of that was shown in “Zero Dark Thirty.”

But it played a small part in the early years of the investigation and Bigelow could not disregard that when making the film. Depicting torture in the film does not mean it was shown as the key to finding bin Laden, rather, the countless hours of detective work of American intelligence workers led to his capture.

The best defense for Bigelow is what she wrote in an op-ed to The Los Angeles Times on Jan. 15.

“Those of us who work in the arts know that depiction is not endorsement,” Bigelow said. “If it was, no artist would be able to paint inhumane practices, no author could write about them, and no filmmaker could delve into the thorny subjects of our time…War, obviously, isn’t pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences.”

As an art form, I think it is important that Hollywood continues not to shy away from depicting the harsh realities of war. Without this tradition, we wouldn’t have masterpieces like “Apocalypse Now,” the film starring Martin Sheen (coincidence, I think not) that displayed “The horror… the horror” of the Vietnam War.

I agree with Bigelow’s claim that it might be more appropriate to direct the disdain of torture toward those who instituted and ordered those tactics instead of a film and its crew.