Hollywood Pushes Back Against Zero Dark Thirty Critics

We haven’t seen Zero Dark Thirty yet, but we are intrigued by the PR back-and-forth between the film’s makers/promoters and various members of the US government. A couple of questions are central to the controversy:

  • Does the film glorify torture and imply that information gained during torture sessions eventually led to the location and assassination of Osama bin Laden?
  • Did the filmmakers act inappropriately in collecting information from confidential sources within the Central Intelligence Agency?

This is a bi-partisan issue; California Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Arizona Republican John McCain both voiced concern over the fact that the movie might lead Americans to see “enhanced interrogation” as an acceptable element of the US military’s intelligence arsenal. The conversation grew so heated that director Kathryn Bigelow found the need to release a public statement calling herself a “lifelong pacifist”, disavowing the use of torture and reminding everyone in the media that retweets do not equal endorsements. The senators have also sent a letter to the acting director of the CIA asking for more information in terms of the filmmakers’ discussions with members of the agency’s intelligence community.

Now the pushback on behalf of ZDT is growing stronger–and it’s an interesting case from a PR perspective.

About a week ago, the co-chairman of Sony Pictures released a statement responding to a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who claimed that he could not, in good conscience, vote for the film in any Oscar category. Then the movie’s official Twitter feed linked to a story outlining the history of the US military’s equally controversial unmanned drone program. Was this a way of pointing out the filmmakers’ supposed objectivity? Or was it a sign of continued collaboration between the two parties?

Christopher Dodd, the former senator who now serves as the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, said that he couldn’t recall another movie being so intensely criticized by the government, warning that writers and/or directors might be called to testify before various committees if this sort of inquiry continues.

The film’s screenwriter Mark Boal was listening: he recently hired Jeffrey H. Smith, a lawyer who has represented Henry Kissinger and other big political names accused of wrongdoing in “security-related matters”. Why? We’re guessing it’s because he wants to protect his pet project.

Questions: Is the film’s promo team right to speak out? What else can they do to counter the controversy? In the end, isn’t all this negative attention good for Zero Dark Thirty?