Kathryn Bigelow's eloquent defense of Zero Dark Thirty's torture scenes

In an essay for the Los Angeles Times, the embattled director stands up for an artist's rights to depict "inhumane practices" without endorsing them

Kathryn Bigelow
(Image credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

As Zero Dark Thirty continues to be attacked for allegedly celebrating torture — with recent salvos coming from actors Martin Sheen and Ed Asner, who have urged Oscar voters to boycott the film — director Kathryn Bigelow has written an essay for The Los Angeles Times describing her personal views on torture, and explains that an artist who depicts "inhumane practices" isn't necessarily endorsing them:

First of all: I support every American's 1st Amendment right to create works of art and speak their conscience without government interference or harassment. As a lifelong pacifist, I support all protests against the use of torture, and, quite simply, inhumane treatment of any kind.

But 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. […]

Experts disagree sharply on the facts and particulars of the intelligence hunt, and doubtlessly that debate will continue. 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, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences. [Los Angeles Times]

Read Bigelow's entire essay here.

Will this finally put the argument to rest? At the very least, Bigelow's eloquent defense of her film shows that it's ridiculous to paint Zero Dark Thirty as "reactionary modern-day propaganda, as if Bigelow were Leni Riefentshal and Zero is Triumph of the Will," says Jon Weisman at Variety. And Bigelow's essay "comes at a critical time for the movie," from both a financial and an awards-show perspective, says Anthony Breznican at Entertainment Weekly. Zero Dark Thirty opened nationally last Friday, earning $24 million at the box office, and it's still a legitimate contender for several Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay (writer Mark Boal), Best Actress (star Jessica Chastain, who won the Best Actress Golden Globe for Zero Dark Thirty on Sunday), and even Best Picture. (Even though the Oscar nominees have been announced, balloting continues until just a few days before the Feb. 24 show.) To keep that momentum alive, Zero Dark Thirty needs to overcome its attackers once and for all. "Will this satisfy Academy voters who may be troubled by the criticism?" Time will tell.

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