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“Those of us who work in the arts know that depiction is not endorsement,” she writes in a new essay for the Los Angeles Times. “If it was, no artist would be able to paint inhumane practices, no author could write about them, and no filmmaker could delve into the thorny subjects of our time.”
The movie, which stars Jessica Chastain as a determined and steely CIA agent at the center of the decadelong hunt for Osama bin Laden, features several scenes in which CIA agents torture prisoners — via waterboarding, sexual humiliation, sleep depravation, dog collars and more. Just how effective those methods are in procuring information vital to the capture of bin Laden is up for debate, and many — including Sen. John McCain, former CIA agents and several human rights groups — say that the film shows the harsh (and now illegal) methods as vital to the terrorist’s capture.
Bigelow says she is a lifelong pacifist and against torture. However, she felt it necessary to depict the actions onscreen in order to fully tell the story and calls on the First Amendment to protect her right to do so.
“This is an important principle to stand up for, and it bears repeating,” Bigelow continues in her essay. “For 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.”
She also calls for a re-targeting of anger, saying, “But 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.”
Bigelow’s words are similar to those she spoke last week at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, where she received a prize for best director.
“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.”
Screenwriter Mark Boal was similarly effusive in his defense of the film that evening.
“I stand here tonight being extremely proud of the film we made. … In case anyone is asking, we stand by the film,” he said. “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.”
Other controversies surrounding the film involve the accuracy of its overall story. McCain, along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, is opening an investigation into whether the CIA leaked documents to Bigelow and Boal to help shape the narrative; meanwhile, the acting CIA director has called the film inaccurate, suggesting a difference in opinion over what, exactly, went down during those 10 years that the U.S. searched for bin Laden.
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