Sony exec: "Zero Dark Thirty" does not advocate torture

Jessica Chastain stars as Maya, a CIA analyst leading the hunt for terror leader Osama bin Laden. It is Maya's singular will and laser-focus that pushes through the agency's bureaucracy and tunnel vision to pursue leads that prove fruitful. Sony Pictures

The co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment blasted a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences who said "Zero Dark Thirty" should be rejected by Oscar voters for portraying an "easy tolerance of torture."

The film, which was nominated this week for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, is an account of the tracking and ultimate killing of terror leader Osama bin Laden. It is also nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Film (Drama), and has received top honors from several critics groups.

In a post on the website truthout.org, actor David Clennon identified himself as a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. "At the risk of being expelled for disclosing my intentions, I will not be voting for 'Zero Dark Thirty' - in any Academy Awards category," because of what Clennon characterized as the film's "easy tolerance of torture":

"Torture is an appalling crime under any circumstances. 'Zero' never acknowledges that torture is immoral and criminal. It does portray torture as getting results. The name of Osama Bin Laden's courier is revealed (in the movie) by a "detainee," Ammar, who has endured prolonged and horrifying torture. The two lead interrogators, both white, are not torturing Ammar at the moment he gives up the name (Abu Ahmed), but he is still utterly depleted from at least 96 hours of sleep-deprivation, and he knows they will torture him again, if he resists. "Y' know, I can ... hang you back up to the ceiling," says chief interrogator Dan.

"The 'moral' of the story? Torture sometimes works. ... If, in fact, torture is a crime (a mortal sin, if you will) - a signal of a nation's descent into depravity - then it doesn't matter whether it "works" or not. 'Zero Dark Thirty' condones torture. ...

"If the deeply racist 'Birth of a Nation' was released today, would we vote to honor it? Would we give an award to Leni Riefenstahl's brilliant pro-Nazi documentary, 'Triumph of the Will'? Hundreds of millions of people around the world watch the Oscars, we're told. Are we going to show the world that we Americans still approve of torture?"

Clennon's film and TV credits include "Flags of Our Fathers," "Extraordinary Measures," "J. Edgar," "Thirtysomething," "The West Wing," "Grey's Anatomy," and "The Agency." He wrote in truthout that he turned down a role in the series "24" because he "would have been guilty of promoting torture."

The Academy frowns upon members publicly stating whom they would vote for or endorsing a particular film or individual, which is why Clennon said he risks expulsion.

Clennon also participated in a demonstration in Los Angeles Friday, outside the Federal Building, against conditions in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Clennon's criticisms were included in a media alert issued by Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, an organizer of the protest.

In response to Clennon's statement, Sony Pictures Entertainment issued a statement by co-chairman Amy Pascal, denying that the film advocates torture, and labeling Clennon's criticism as an "attempt to censure one of the great films of our time. ..."

"We are outraged that any responsible member of the Academy would use their voting status in AMPAS as a platform to advance their own political agenda. This film should be judged free of partisanship."

Director Kathryn Bigelow has also said the film does not condone torture.

As she accepted the New York Film Critics Circle's Award for Best Director, she remarked 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 knotty subjects of our time."

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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