‘Zero Dark Thirty’: a hit in America, a subject of controversy in Pakistan

Mark Deming
Yahoo! Movies Oscars Blog

"Zero Dark Thirty" has earned rave reviews from critics, been nominated for five Academy Awards (including Best Picture), and become a surprise box office hit. But that doesn't mean everyone likes it. Though the movie has yet to officially screen in Pakistan, where the real-life raid to capture Osama bin Laden took place and much of the film is set, those Pakistanis who have seen it are not happy with the finished product.

"Zero Dark Thirty" has been circulating in Pakistan on bootleg DVDs and through pirated internet downloads, and while it should come as no surprise that many object to the film's political slant, a number of commentators have also called the picture's factual accuracy into question.

Nadeem F. Paracha, a critic and columnist who writes for the English-language Pakistani journal Dawn, has cited a number of details that suggest sloppy research by the film's writers and producers, including characters speaking the wrong language (in the movie Pakistanis are seen speaking Arabic, while in real life they more commonly speak Urdu and Pashto), and misleading depictions of places depicted in the film (according to Paracha, the American embassy in Pakistan didn't have to deal with protesters since it's situated in an enclave that ordinary citizens can't access). As Paracha put it, "How can you make a Hollywood blockbuster, put in so much money and get simple things wrong? Instead of the film being taken seriously, it became a joke among Pakistanis."

It's also significant that many Pakistanis are still upset that the United States staged the raid without giving prior notice to the nation's military, which hasn't eased concerns about an American film on the subject. And a surprising number of Pakistanis are convinced the raid was a hoax and that bin Laden never actually had a compound in Abbottabad, particularly given its proximity to a celebrated national military academy.

So far, no distributors in Pakistan have tried to import the film or seek required approval from the local censor board (which includes representatives from the nation's armed forces). There are just a tiny number of theaters in Pakistan that screen English-language movies, and while they fare better on DVD, most video stores are either not carrying the film or claim there's no demand for a picture that's considered propaganda for the United States. A Pakistani college student who saw "Zero Dark Thirty" told a reporter, "I don't know whether Osama was here, but Americans have defamed us by producing the movie."

Since "Zero Dark Thirty" has already grossed nearly $88 million so far, the loss of Pakistani box office is no great worry for the producers and the studio. But having the film's integrity called into question by people who clearly know the territory where the story takes place may not help the picture in the final days of Oscar Season.

The cast of 'Zero Dark Thirty' talks to Yahoo!: