Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal Fire Back at 'Zero Dark Thirty' Investigation and Torture Debate
As they received trophies in New York City, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal sent a warning shot directed squarely at Washington, D.C.
The respective director and screenwriter of Zero Dark Thirty accepted the best director and best picture awards at Monday night's New York Film Critics Circle Awards and used the opportunity onstage to address two simmering controversies: the debate over their film's use of torture and the impending Senate investigation into their sources in crafting the movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
"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," Bigelow said to applause from the press and peers assembled at the Crimson Club in Manhattan. "No author could ever write about them, and no filmmaker could ever delve into the knotty subjects of our time."
Many -- including Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. -- have accused the film of endorsing the use of torture due to its graphic depiction of the waterboarding, sexual humiliation and other "enhanced interrogation" techniques done to a detainee. Debate over whether the techniques are depicted as helping the CIA obtain valuable information in the hunt for bin Laden has in some ways overshadowed the rest of the film, which has received near-universal praise.
Boal, in accepting the best picture award, gave a more full-throated defense of Zero Dark Thirty, while also pulling in an even more current political headline.
"There’s been a lot written about this movie; some of it has popped off the entertainment page to the news page," he said. "And from time to time, some of you might have wondered if we would have liked to comment on some of that coverage, and the answer is yes.
"Let me just say this: There was a very interesting story on the front page of The New York Times today by Scott Shane about a CIA agent who is now facing jail time for talking to a reporter about waterboarding," he continued, referencing the story of John Kiriaku, an ex-CIA operative who was sentenced to 30 months in prison for disclosing the name of a covert CIA agent's name to a journalist. Kiriaku publicly discussed torture on television and was a source for many other journalists.
"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," Boal said in a nod at the pending Senate investigation into whether the CIA improperly gave him classified information to assist in the making of the film.
"But nevertheless, I stand here tonight being extremely proud of the film we made. ... In case anyone is asking, we stand by the film," he added, throwing down a gauntlet. "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."
The Oscar-winning screenwriter, however, was reluctant to discuss the investigation.
"You'd have to ask them," he told The Hollywood Reporter when asked about the status of the probe called for by Feinstein. "I think they have a job to do, and it’s very different from my job."
He did say, though, that he thinks that it should be clear that Zero Dark Thirty is inspired by a true story, not a work of investigative journalism.
"It’s a movie. I’ve been saying from the beginning it’s a movie," Boal said. "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."
Editor's note: Bigelow said "knotty," not "naughty," as previously quoted.
Email: Jordan.Zakarin@THR.com; Twitter: @JordanZakarin