ZDT Director Defends Film's Use of Torture

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 16 2013 12:16 PM

Zero Dark Thirty Director Defends Film's Use of Torture

Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, and Chris Pratt pose for photos at the Newseum during the Zero Dark Thirty Washington, D.C., premiere on Jan. 8, 2013
Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, and Chris Pratt pose for photos at the Newseum during the Zero Dark Thirty Washington, D.C., premiere on Jan. 8, 2013

Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images.

Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow, referring to herself as a "lifelong pacifist," addressed critics of her Oscar-nominated film's depiction of torture today in a first-person piece in the Los Angeles Times.

According to her response, the paper asked the director to elaborate on her previous, shorter comments to criticism of her film. That, response, essentially, is that depiction isn't the same thing as endorsement, no matter how the critics are reading it within the film's narrative. Here's Bigelow:

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 ... confusing depiction with endorsement 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.
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The director also elaborated on her own views concerning the death of Osama Bin Laden:

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. ... 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.

We've been discussing the film, and specifically its depiction of torture, in Slate. Here's Dana Stevens' review of the film. Meanwhile, Emily Bazelon argues that, while the film comes off as pro-torture, "the film doesn’t get the role it played in the Bin Laden chase condemnably wrong." Wondering who the characters in Zero Dark Thirty are based on? "Brow Beat" has a roundup.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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