Valerie Plame, Feminist Hero

What Women Really Think
Oct. 7 2010 1:54 PM

Valerie Plame, Feminist Hero

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In the new movie Fair Game , which had a New York premiere on Wednesday, Valerie Plame surely gets her revenge on the Bush administration. Played by Naomi Watts, she is the farthest cry possible from the desk job CIA "secretary" that Bush officials like Karl Rove and Scooter Libby dismissed her as. In director Doug Liman's telling, Plame heads up the CIA's counter nuclear-proliferation efforts for Iraq, doing dangerous and important work to get information from Iraqi scientists, who tell the CIA that Iraq has no program for building weapons of mass destruction. In case you've forgotten, her career comes to an abrupt and humiliating halt after her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, goes to Gabon for the CIA to investigate whether Niger has sold the Iraqis uranimium yellow cake, tells the CIA that no such deal took place, watches President Bush describe it anyway in 16 infamous words in the State of the Union, and then writes a NYT op-ed called " What I Didn't Find in Africa ." To discredit Wilson, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff (and others) blew Plame's cover to journalists Judith Miller and Matt Cooper.* In the movie, we see Watts deal with the fallout-to her marriage, her friendships, and most pressingly, one of the Iraqi scientists, who we see abandoned on his country's border, waiting for a promised American rescue that never comes.

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This is seriously disturbing as well as dramatic. It's a scene that will make this movie stick with me. The larger lesson of the film, of course, is about the dangers of an all-powerful White House willing to crush those who disagree with it-not just on policy, but on the facts. But I loved something else about the movie: The depiction of Wilson and Plame dealing with their ambitious career-couple household. She jets off to parts unknown, leaving behind post-it notes about babysitting arrangements for the kids. When the babysitter is late, it is Wilson (played gruffly and realistically by Sean Penn) who says he'll work at home. This isn't overplayed in an emasculating Mr. Mom way. It's just how the family operates. After the movie, I was on a panel with Wilson and Plame (the real people), so I got to point this out to them. They laughed and said that if the movie had been 15 minutes longer, they would have added more sex and love. Fair Game opens in November.

*CORRECTION, October 20th: The original sentence incorrectly said that Libby passed the information to Robert Novack.

Photograph of Naomi Watts by Getty Images.

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

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