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UPDATE: Sheen, Asner Add Voices to 'Zero Dark Thirty' Protests | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

UPDATE: Sheen, Asner Add Voices to 'Zero Dark Thirty' Protests

Sunday Update: Ed Asner and Martin Sheen, two longtime liberal activists, are now throwing their weight behind David Clennon—and going further by asking fellow actors to not vote for Zero Dark Thirty for Best Picture. Asner added in the memo: “One of the brightest female directors [Kathryn Bigelow] in the business is in danger of becoming part of the system.”

Just when you think criticism of the film Zero Dark Thirty and its treatment of torture’s role in getting bin Laden has peaked, another round begins. In the past three days the latest complants were sparked by the Academy Award nominations and the film’s opening across the U.S. after only screening in “select cities.”

The film this week managed to secure one of the nine Oscar nods for Best Picture (a given), but in a pointed omission it’s director Kathryn Bigelow was denied a nomination for Best Director (a surprise). Writer Mark Boal did make the finals even though it should have been in Best Adapted Screenplay, not Best Original, since his work was partly adapted, it turns out, from CIA briefings. In any case, those outraged by Bigelow’s omission were met online by a new chorus of charges.

At the film’s belated DC premiere last night, Bigelow ducked out—after saying she was “awed” by the debate over the film — while Boal enjoyed some disappointingly friendly questions from ABC’s Martha Raddatz before being whisked away himself. Former Sen. Chris Dodd, now a movie industry flack, asked, what’s all the fuss about?

Yersterday brought another withering critique of the film from a highly respected analyst. Not surprisingly, some of the most effective assaults on Zero Dark Thirty’s portrayal of the efficacy of torture have come from writers who are true experts in this area. To date, Jane Mayer’s attack in The New Yorker has perhaps been most convincing, and now we have the great Steve Coll in The New York Review of Books.

His devastating portrait benefits from a balanced, understated tone, but also reminds us that it was the director and screenwriter who insisted at the outset (but not so much since) that there work was based on true events and was meant to be journalistic. Coll (author of the award-winning Ghost Wars on Afghanistan and bin Laden) :

As with discourse about climate change policy, the persistence of on-the-one-hand, on-the-other forms of argument about the value of officially sanctioned torture represents a victory for those who would justify such abuse. Zero Dark Thirty has performed no public service by enlarging the acceptability of that form of debate.

And here’s a new collection of a couple dozen (negative) blurbs for Zero Dark Thirty—including one from yours truly—that you won’t see in any ad. Plus: new slam from Michael Hastings at Buzzfeed and one from Dan Froomkin.

Today a new controversy rages, after Academy voting member/actor David Clennon, announced he will not vote for Zero Dark Thirty in any category. This prompted a response from the Sony studio. I once had dinner with Clennon—among other roles, he played the evil boss Miles on thirtysomething— in Hollywood years ago and found him to be, as described, a strong and intense liberal activist. “At the risk of being expelled for disclosing my intentions,” Clennon wrote last night, “I will not be voting for ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ — in any Academy Awards category.”

He also released this statement:

The Motion Picture Academy clearly warns its members not to disclose their votes for Academy Awards. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that the film Zero Dark Thirty promotes the acceptance of the crime of torture, as a legitimate weapon in America’s so-called War on Terror. In that belief, following my conscience, I will not vote for Zero Dark Thirty in any category. I cannot vote for a film that makes heroes of Americans who commit the crime of torture.

It's not official yet but film likely will take #1 slot at box office for this weekend with more than $20 million despite (or perhaps because of) uproar, beating "Gangster Squad"--which, come to think of it, would be fitting title for the torturers and torture defenders in "ZDT."

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