An interesting take from Hollywood-based TPM Reader MJ on what was really behind the commotion over Zero Dark Thirty and some of the decisions made in the movie itself. After discussing some of the ins and outs of who should have won which Academy Award, MJ gets to the topic at hand …
Don’t underestimate groupthink in Hollywood. There were two movies in the zeitgeist that presented a face about U.S. Foreign Policy to the world: Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. Which face do you really think was better for business? (And I say this as a person who believes if it was a choice between Argo and ZDT…I’d take Argo every day of the week).
Zero Dark Thirty also twisted itself into knots, bent over backwards to make sure President Obama received as little credit as possible in this movie.
You’ll note that this movie was originally scheduled to come out in October of 2012. Many, many cries of foul came from the Conservative Press. And that was after the movie was already in the can.
Remember, Movie Execs are some of the most timid people in all of business. They don’t want to offend anybody. They know going in that this movie can be seen as a Political Ad for Obama, and thus risk potential ticket sales in the South and among Red staters. So you’ll notice President Obama is airbrushed out of its history.
The scene where Obama outlaws torture (again), is rendered passive, as you said. James Gandolfini, who is costumed in every respect to look like Leon Panetta…is credited only as CIA Director. I’m pretty sure Stephen Dilllane while credited as “National Security Adviser” was playing Tom Donilon, except he was missing a bald spot. Even the “Go”/”No Go” meeting about the raid was held in the CIA Offices, when the real one, the important one was held in the White House where Joe Biden famously advises the President not to do it.
I’ve been in meetings where these kinds of political considerations overwhelmed the storytelling interest of a movie. It happens ALL THE TIME. When it doubt, Hollywood will ALWAYS @#$%^ out, even when it comes to having the back of a President they support. Hell, there’s money to be made.
Of course, the most notorious aspect of this Obama caution came out in the way Torture was handled.
There’s no other way to put it: Glenn Greenwald flat out lied when he said this was a pro-torture movie. That initial reading caused a lot of Liberals (my Father included) to refuse to see the movie.
The real problem was the fact that the movie didn’t take a position on Torture at all…and the Studio’s Obama paranoia was the reason why.
If you look at it from a plot perspective. The suspect is tortured. He’s tortured again. Maya suggests going at him another way. They sit him down, all civilized, and then he reveals the key clue. Then, the movie resumes its torture again, this time of other suspects.
If I’m Mark Boal (The Screenwriter), the simplest thing to do, is to have the Maya character take some kind of stand. It would take all of one line of dialogue, where she takes her CIA superior played by Jason Clarke to task. “The reason he’s giving you bullshit is you keep torturing him!”. If for nothing else, this will clear up the plot. This will put history into context, and shut up critics like Greenwald.
But the second you do that, guess what you’ve done…you’ve made Maya parrot the Obama Administration line. Being Anti-Torture might be seen as taking a political stance, one in favor of the Obama administration, and since we can’t have any mention of Obama at all in the movie…
Look how every time Bigelow is asked about Torture, and it’s effectiveness, she seems more interested in emphasizing more how “torture was a part of tis period” instead of really talking about torture. That’s because Sony made a decision to avoid Obama at all costs.