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Criticisms Hurt 'Zero Dark Thirty'

James Hirsen By Monday, 24 December 2012 10:11 AM EST Current | Bio | Archive

The Sony Pictures release, “Zero Dark Thirty,” has just gone from being an Oscar favorite to an Academy Award underdog.
The film’s change in status is the result of a spate of strong criticism that has emanated from public officials and Washington, D.C., politicians.
Kathryn Bigelow, who won an Oscar for directing “The Hurt Locker,” which was also a best picture winner, directs “Zero Dark Thirty.” A follow-up movie of sorts for Bigelow, the film has been a favorite of critics and has appeared on many prognosticators’ Oscar prediction lists.
Sony has vigorously pushed the movie as an Academy Award contender. Not so long ago the prospects for “Zero Dark Thirty” were looking extremely good, with the film having garnered Golden Globe nominations and also having been chosen as the best picture by the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle.
The movie initially stirred up controversy due to allegations made by politicians that the filmmakers had been given improper access to classified intelligence sources by the Obama administration.
However, the controversy that threatens the movie’s ability to be a strong competitor in the Academy Awards contest is the contention that the filmmakers distorted the role that enhanced interrogation had played in locating Osama bin Laden.
Sen. John McCain recently slammed the film, claiming that scenes, which show U.S. intelligence personnel engaged in the process of the torture of an al-Qaida prisoner, are not only untrue but could also be a dangerous influence on attitudes held by Islamic radicals toward the U.S.
“Obviously movies by very highly credentialed producers, directors, and casts do have an effect on public opinion, not only in the United States, but also around the world,” the Arizona senator said during an appearance on CNN.
McCain called the brutality depicted in the movie “very disturbing,” and pointed out that although one watching the movie might believe that water boarding produced the information that led to the elimination of Osama bin Laden, “That's not the case.”
McCain and two other senior senators, Sen. Diane Feinstein and Sen. Carl Levin, sent a letter to Sony Pictures, objecting to the film’s content concerning the water boarding scenes. In the letter, McCain called for Sony Pictures to add a disclaimer to “Zero Dark Thirty,” due to the fact that the film puts forth the notion that it is a true accounting of the actual events leading up to the eventual death of bin Laden.
The Arizona senator also explained that when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist acts, was subjected to water boarding “he gave information that was false.”
The senator stated that the U.S. is “in a long ideological struggle with the forces of radical Islam. This gives them all kinds of ammunition when they have a movie that shows that we are torturing people.”
“To somehow make people believe that it was responsible for the elimination of Osama bin Laden is, in my view, unacceptable,” McCain stated.  
CIA Acting Director Michael Morell agreed with the senator, issuing a statement that suggested the film “departs from reality.”
“I would not normally comment on a Hollywood film,” the CIA head said, “but I think it important to put ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ which deals with one of the most significant achievements in our history, into some context.” 
“What I want you to know is that 'Zero Dark Thirty' is a dramatization, not a realistic portrayal of the facts,” Morell indicated in the statement.
According to Morell, the film “creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Ladin. That impression is false.”
The fact that politicians and intelligence officials are denouncing a portion of the content of the movie does not bode well for the film’s Oscar campaign. Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have made criticisms even more germane with their characterization of the film as a journalistic enterprise based on “firsthand accounts.”
Perhaps an even greater concern for the film’s Oscar prospects is the Academy voting group itself, because, being part of the Hollywood community and generally aligned ideologically, many members loathe the idea that enhanced interrogation, a.k.a. water boarding, would in any way be justified, cinematically or otherwise.
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Visit Newsmax.TV Hollywood. Read more reports from James Hirsen — Click Here Now.


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The Sony Pictures release, “Zero Dark Thirty,” has just gone from being an Oscar favorite to an Academy Award underdog.
Monday, 24 December 2012 10:11 AM
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