Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow "stand by" bin Laden manhunt film "Zero Dark Thirty"

"Depiction" of torture "is not endorsement," said the director

By Prachi Gupta
January 8, 2013 7:07PM (UTC)
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Even before it hit theaters, the critically acclaimed Osama bin Laden manhunt dramatization, "Zero Dark Thirty," received heat, prompting critics and government officials to question the accuracy of the film and argue that it endorses torture. During Monday night's New York Film Critics Circle Awards ceremony, screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow accepted awards for best picture and best director, taking another opportunity to defend themselves against the controversy -- one that recently escalated into a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation of the CIA for its relationship with the filmmakers.

Bigelow said to the roomful of colleagues and press, "I thankfully want to say that I’m standing in a room of people who understand that depiction is not endorsement, and if it was, no artist could ever portray inhumane practices; no author could ever write about them; and no filmmaker could ever delve into the knotty subjects of our time."


Boal too said, "We stand by the film," adding, "I think at the end of the day, we made a film that allows us to look back at the past in a way that gives us a more clear-sighted appraisal of the future."

Though Bigelow and Boal maintain that the film is not politics, nor is it investigative journalism, Boal is concerned by the implications of a thematically related story, this one playing out in real life: The conviction of ex-CIA officer John C. Kiriakou, who is going to jail for releasing the name of a covert CIA officer to a reporter (the name was not published). According to the New York Times, Kiriakou "is the first current or former C.I.A. officer to be convicted of disclosing classified information to a reporter" in more than 60 years. Boal said of the story, "This gentleman is going to jail for that. And all I can say is that I read that story very closely. It sort of reminds me of what somebody else said when they were running for president, which is: 'If this shit was happening to somebody else, it would be very interesting. For us, it's quite serious.'"

But the screenwriter wouldn't elaborate on the Senate's current investigation, which is examining the nature of the information the CIA released as research to the filmmakers. Boal told the Hollywood Reporter, "You'd have to ask them" about the case. "I think they have a job to do, and it’s very different from my job."


He added, "It’s a movie. I’ve been saying from the beginning it’s a movie. That shouldn’t be too confusing. It’s in cinemas, and if it’s not totally obvious, a CIA agent wasn’t really an Australian [Jason Clarke] that was on a lot of TV shows, and Jessica Chastain isn’t really a CIA agent; she’s a very talented actress. But I think most American audiences understand that."

Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at

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