Kathryn Bigelow on ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ controversy: Blame the policy-makers, not the artists

Movie Talk

Director Kathryn Bigelow was asked by the Los Angeles Times to elaborate on her recent responses to the criticism and controversy surrounding her new film, "Zero Dark Thirty," particularly involving the much-discussed and -debated torture scenes. The filmmaker has come forward with an article that, more than anything, defends the American artist's right to depict "the truth" and that any criticism about the depiction of torture should be directed by those who authorized these tactics during the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

"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," writes Bigelow. "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."

While defending the rights of the artist, Bigelow also defers to the responsibility of American audiences to not confuse depiction with endorsement, which is "the first step toward chilling any American artist's ability and right to shine a light on dark deeds, especially when those deeds are cloaked in layers of secrecy and government obfuscation."

Indeed, Bigelow expresses surprise at the fact that "Zero Dark Thirty" even got made at all, as the details of its subject matter were, of course, highly classified and shrouded in secrecy.

"The goal, to make a modern, rigorous film about counter-terrorism, centered on one of the most important and classified missions in American history, was exciting and worthy enough, or so it seemed. But there were too many obstacles, too many secrets, and politicians standing in the way of an easy path."

But in the end, Hollywood prevails: "Somehow, though, thanks to the great persistence of my filmmaking team and an enormous dose of luck, we got the movie made and found studio partners with the courage to release it."

Ultimately, Bigelow is taking a "don't shoot (or, perhaps, don't torture) the messenger" approach.

"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."

And despite these "moral consequences," she's certainly giving credit where credit is due.

"Bin Laden wasn't defeated by superheroes zooming down from the sky; he was defeated by ordinary Americans who fought bravely even as they sometimes crossed moral lines, who labored greatly and intently, who gave all of themselves in both victory and defeat, in life and in death, for the defense of this nation."

"Zero Dark Thirty" emerged as a major awards season frontrunner when it opened in limited release on December 19, appearing on many critics' "Best of the Year" lists for 2012. However, since opening wide to other markets, the film's controversy has increased, which probably contributed to what many consider to be at least one "Oscar snub" -- the film is nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Jessica Chastain) and Best Original Screenplay (Mark Boal), though Bigelow was notably not nominated for Best Director.

"Zero Dark Thirty" was nominated for four Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture - Drama, Best Director - Motion Picture, Best Screenplay - Motion Picture and Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama. Only Chastain took home the award.

You can read Kathryn Bigelow's article in its entirety at the Los Angeles Times.

See the trailer for 'Zero Dark Thirty':

"Zero Dark Thirty" Insider Access