Julian Assange (Reuters/Valentin Flauraud)

The Fifth Estate is finally about to open, after the major studio drama, directed by BIll Condon, debuted this month at the Toronto film fest—and no surprise, WikiLeaks folks, as far as we know, are not happy with it.

I’ve written about the film since shooting began, and covered Assange’s early critique. At that point he had not seen the script but didn’t like the whole notion of basing it partly on ex-comrade Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s super-critical book. Then Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Assange, offered some kind words about WikiLeaks, and some said WikiLeaks would come off okay.

I haven’t seen it so I can’t weigh in just now. But WikiLeaks, in a new web posting, says they have obtained various scripts including what they say was the near-final one—and claim friends saw it in Toronto and noted a late change or two. So in any case they are, they say, basing their full critique on the finished film, more or less. They even published a script (see link that follows, scroll to top).

Read the details here. Besides claiming inaccuracies about WikiLeaks and DDB and his role and deeds, there’s this:

* Julian Assange was never in a cult, but THE FIFTH ESTATE claims that he was.

* Julian Assange does not dye or bleach his hair white, as claimed in the film.

* While these interpolations may serve to enhance the dramatic narrative of the film, or to build an enigmatic or interesting central character, they have the effect of further falsely mythologizing a living person as sinister and duplicitous.

And this: “THE FIFTH ESTATE falsely implies that WikiLeaks harmed 2,000 US government informants. Not even the US government alleges that WikiLeaks caused harm to a single person.” (See my books The Age of WikiLeaks and Truth and Consequences, on the Bradley Manning case).

Main point:

The film is fictional. Most of the events depicted never happened, or the people shown were not involved in them. It has real names, real places, and looks like it is covering real events, but it is still a dramatic and cinematic work, and it invents or shapes the facts to fit its narrative goals.

There are very high stakes involved in how WikiLeaks is perceived. This film does not occur in a historical vacuum, but appears in the context of ongoing efforts to bring a criminal prosecution against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange for exposing the activities of the Pentagon and the US State Department. The film also occurs in the context of Pvt. Manning's upcoming appeal and request for a presidential pardon.

People should not in any way treat this film as an historical account of WikiLeaks, its activities or its personnel. Hopefully, they will be inspired to approach the topic with an open mind, and to support WikiLeaks.


Greg Mitchell previews The Fifth Estate.