The liberal publicity line on ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

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The director and the screenwriter of “Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, in the two months since the release of the film have tried and discarded
a number of defenses against accusations by Jane Mayer, Karen Greenberg, Glenn Greenwald, Dan Froomkin and others who say that the film distorts history and
that it will have the effect of softening the popular acceptance of torture.

In order of justifications, Bigelow and Boal said: (1) That Zero Dark Thirty reflects a “journalistic approach”–apparently meaning that it has a fast trim
storyline and you can’t include everything. (2) That to make the film, they interviewed CIA agents who assured them that torture yielded substantial clues
toward the killing of Bin Laden. (3) It’s just a movie.

None of those reasons separately convinced anyone. Their incompatibility when taken together suggested that Zero Dark Thirty was made in a hurry–as if the
filmmakers had never stood back, walked around their project, and asked what star they were sailing by.

In a recent interview interview in Salon, Mark Boal tries out a possibly more resistant strain of apology. The hero, he now says, is a feminist heroine. Zero Dark Thirty is a simple police procedural all right, but the detective is a liberated Western woman, and her quest is to rid the world of Bin Laden. Challenge the heroine’s tactics or protest the low morale of the Bigelow-Boal redaction of history and you align yourself with the oppressive males of the East.

By a coincidence that fits nicely with this presentation, Kathryn Bigelow has joined a social media campaign [link here] for including women in combat. Her tweet for the women-in-combat movement–

“Women helped find the world’s most dangerous man. Are you surprised? #ZeroDarkThirty

Join Kathryn Bigelow in sharing this message together at the same time – automatically.

–is attached to advertising copy that oddly alternates between first-person and third-person voices. The ad affirms her status as a “lifelong pacifist” under a
new aspect: “I personally believe war should be avoided whenever and wherever possible, [but] there is no justification for inequality among those ready and
willing to serve our country in the armed forces.” The next voice we hear praises “the filmmakers” who “tell the story of many men and women.” Then the
author turns into Bigelow again: “When I discovered there were women at the heart of this 10-year odyssey, I was excited to take it on. It was like being dealt a royal flush.”

In conclusion, the action director speaks for herself and her screenwriter to assert that, whether Zero Dark Thirty is fast journalism, or a CIA story about
the CIA, or “just a movie,” Maya, the heroine, was a real woman and she got Bin Laden. “Our account of bin Laden’s pursuit and capture offers viewers an inside
look at women like Maya who dedicate their lives to selflessly protecting our freedom.”

About David Bromwich

David Bromwich teaches literature at Yale. He is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post and has written on politics and culture for The New Republic, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, and other magazines. He is editor of Edmund Burke's selected writings On Empire, Liberty, and Reform and co-editor of the Yale University Press edition of On Liberty.

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