The manhunt for Oscar glory

by Victor Rodriguez / Columnist • February 21, 2013

With tremendous competition, Zero Dark Thirty is the sole nominee that has caused rage and praise in both Hollywood and Washington. Widely denounced for being a film that promotes the use of torture, the film by writer Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow has been boycotted by members of the Academy. However, this is perhaps the film that should win the award for Best Picture, because its success would prove that filmmakers can do whatever they want without being suppressed by the government. 

The movie tracks CIA operative Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, as the woman who leads the manhunt for Osama bin Laden. Beginning with 9/11 phone calls from family members, the film transitions from the United States to Pakistan to Afghanistan until, after 10 years, bin Laden is found. Using many torture scenes illustrating the interrogations of certain individuals of interest, the film has been accused by critics of being pro-torture, since it apparently proposes that torture works for acquiring information.

In January, Academy member David Clennon publicly said he would not be voting for Zero Dark Thirty under any category, calling for a boycott and risking his AMPAS membership. On Feb. 4, anti-torture activists organized a silent protest in front of the Beverly Hilton, where the Oscar nominees luncheon was taking place. And to top off the Oscar season, both Boal and Bigelow have received a government notification informing them that they may be subject to a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. The Senate is investigating the movie under the suspicion that the CIA fed the writer and director false information. 

Admittedly, the film was provocative, even taking a mocking tone at times. Throughout the film, U.S. Army and CIA operatives are shown using torture as a means to extract information from prisoners of war. Later in the film, Obama appears on a TV screen saying, “America doesn’t torture”. But we all know torture has been used in the past, recalling the events at the Abu Ghraib prison.

Among those who have spoken against the movie are Sens. Carl Levin, John McCain, and Dianne Feinstein. However, The Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and former CIA director Michael Hayden proclaim that Zero Dark Thirty is not wrong. Considering all the surrounding controversy, it would be best for the Academy to prove that it is not a system influenced by government, nor one which can be tampered with boycotts. It means a lot for a community of filmmakers that this movie withstood social pressures and is nominated for Best Picture.

The trial that Zero Dark Thirty is going through, both socially and politically, should remind us of the time when the Hays Code still existed, and the HUAC blacklisted artists and films. The controversy that surrounds Zero Dark Thirty calls for a major change in the film industry. Whether or not it is the movie that should win, Zero Dark Thirty ought to, since it has become a symbol for freedom of speech and storytelling in general.