x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Bigelow defends her depiction of torture

Zero Dark Thirty has revived the debate in the US about so-called "enhanced interrogation".

Kathryn Bigelow on the set of Zero Dark Thirty.
Kathryn Bigelow on the set of Zero Dark Thirty.

Last week, the Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow defended her controversial Oscar-tipped movie Zero Dark Thirty against criticism over its depiction of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Much was made about the authenticity of the film by Bigelow and the screenwriter Mark Boal, who used insider access to tell the sweeping, meticulously detailed story of the decade-long search for bin Laden.

In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Bigelow wrote that critics should focus on those responsible for torture and harsh interrogation techniques in the years after September 11, rather than on the artists portraying them.

"Experts disagree sharply on the facts and particulars of the intelligence hunt, and doubtlessly that debate will continue," wrote Bigelow, whose 2008 film The Hurt Locker won six Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director.

"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."

The movie includes graphic depictions of water-boarding and other harsh techniques, and alludes to the changing CIA culture that came about after Barack Obama became president in 2009.

It has drawn criticism notably from the acting CIA director Michael Morell, who issued a statement about it last month. "The film creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation programme were the key to finding bin Laden. That impression is false," he said.

A former CIA official, Jose Rodriguez, wrote in a Washington Post article headlined "Sorry Hollywood. What we did wasn't torture" that bloody interrogations never really happened. "The truth is that no one was bloodied or beaten in the enhanced interrogation programme which I supervised from 2002 to 2007," he wrote.

Bigelow wrote last week that "depiction is not endorsement", adding: "I do wonder if some of the sentiments … expressed about the film might be more appropriately directed at those who instituted and ordered these US policies, as opposed to a motion picture that brings the story to the screen." At least one member of the motion picture academy, David Clennon, has said he will not vote for Zero Dark Thirty in any category because of the way it depicts torture.