‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Director Kathryn Bigelow, Screenwriter Mark Boal Respond to Critics


The 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 simmering controversies: the debate over their film’s use of torture, as well as 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; no author could ever write about them; and no filmmaker could ever delve into the naughty subjects of our time,” Bigelow said to applause from the press and peers assembled at the Crimson Club in Manhattan.


Boal, in accepting the best picture award, gave a more full-throated defense of the film, 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. 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,” he said, standing defiantly at the podium.

“Let me just say this: there was a very interesting story on the front page of the New York Timestoday by Scott Shane, about a CIA agent who is now facing jail time for talking to a reporter about waterboarding,” he explained, 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 continued, 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.”

Related: Alex Pasternack: “The “problem” with Zero Dark Thirty‘s portrayal of torture isn’t the portrayal itself, but what it represents”; Jose A. Rodriguez: “I was intimately involved in setting up and administering the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program, and I left the agency in 2007 secure in the knowledge not only that our program worked but also that it was not torture.” [Update: Scott Horton in 2007 on Rodriguez, aka, The Scapegoat]

(Image: david_shankbone, Flickr/CC)

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"I don't fuck much with the past but I fuck plenty with the future."

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I haven’t seen the movie and don’t know if it’s historically accurate, but I do identify with the director’s notion that portrayal doesn’t necessarily mean advocacy.

    Some of the movies I like; There will be blood, The Proposition, and Lawless come to mind, are historically accurate, or better said, even if fictionalized, accurately represent the time and climate in which they are set and thereby are useful learning tools as well as being entertaining, even if repulsive in places.

    While movies like No Country for old men or The Road, which I liked for other reasons, are historically inaccurate, in the case of No country, or beyond even possibility or plausability in the case of the Road.

    For what it’s worth, another movie that really intrigued me was Anonymous, concerning the works of William Shakespeare. I’m still not sure which camp that one falls into.

    • The way I look at it is this: if Bigelow/Boal had wanted to make a documentary, they would have. But they didn’t, regardless of how the movie has been marketed as “journalistic”.

      Which is as far as I feel comfortable going until I have a chance to watch the film myself.

      (Am very partial to Peckinpah — the Matisse of cinematic violence).

  • Matt: I’m assuming you have still not gotten to:
    “And yes, I am going to see it (on my own dime) — so I can make up my own mind.”

    I hope you will post something when you do.

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