Kathryn Bigelow defends "Zero Dark Thirty" torture scenes

Kathryn Bigelow, the director of the Osama bin Laden chase film "Zero Dark Thirty," had been widely expected to land her second directing nomination (she won a Best Director Oscar in 2009 for "The Hurt Locker"), but she was not among the names read. Many have speculated that Bigelow and the film were diminished by the many objections to the movie's much-debated depiction of torture. Paul A. Hebert

Director Kathryn Bigelow is defending the torture scenes in her Oscar-nominated film "Zero Dark Thirty," saying torture was an undeniable part of the hunt for Osama bin Laden after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Bigelow also said critics should perhaps direct their anger at those who ordered U.S. torture policies instead.

In an essay published in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, Bigelow wrote, in part:

"First of all: I support every American's 1st Amendment right to create works of art and speak their conscience without government interference or harassment. As a lifelong pacifist, I support all protests against the use of torture, and, quite simply, inhumane treatment of any kind.

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.

Those of us who work in the arts know that depiction is not endorsement. 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.

This is an important principle to stand up for, and it bears repeating. 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."

"Zero Dark Thirty" opens by declaring it is based on firsthand accounts of actual events.

But Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other lawmakers have criticized the film as misleading for suggesting that torture led to bin Laden's location. Lawmakers asked Sony Pictures to attach a disclaimer that the film is fictional.

"Experts disagree sharply on the facts and particulars of the intelligence hunt, and doubtlessly that debate will continue," Bigelow wrote in the Times.

The comments were the director's most explicit reaction to the controversy so far.

"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," she continued. "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."

She added, "War, obviously, isn't pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences."

Last week, Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal responded forcefully to a "Zero Dark Thirty" anti-Oscar campaign waged by Ed Asner and other Hollywood actors, saying "to punish an artist's right of expression is abhorrent."

Bigelow and "Zero Dark Thirty" screenwriter Mark Boal had said previously that they "depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding bin Laden.

"The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes," they said.

"Zero Dark Thirty" opened in wide release last weekend, coming in first place at the box office with $24 million. The film received five Academy Awards nominations, for best picture, best actress Jessica Chastain, screenwriter Mark Boal, film editing and sound editing. Bigelow was not nominated in the directing category.

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