In January of this year, director Kathryn Bigelow appeared on The Colbert Report to defend her film Zero Dark Thirty, the subject of much controversy over its depiction of torture. Had she been “duped” by intelligence sources into making the case for torture, host Stephen Colbert wanted to know? Ms. Bigelow’s staunchly denied this at the time, saying “the movie is a ‘fair assessment’ of what’s known.”
But this week, newly released documents obtained by Gawker show just how direct of a hand the CIA had in shaping the film’s narrative. The memo shows that at least two scenes depicting torture were changed by screenwriter Mark Boal at the request of the CIA’s public-affairs department.
The most notable change happened in the film’s opening scene. Zero Dark Thirty begins with the film’s lead character Maya watching a detainee as he’s tortured in an interrogation. But an early version of the film apparently had Maya participating in the torture, too. After hearing about this from Mr. Boal (who “verbally shared the screenplay”), the CIA asked that it be changed. “For this scene we emphasized that substantive debriefers [the Maya character] did not administer EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques], because in this scene he had a non-interrogator, substantive debriefer assisting in a dosing technique,” the memo reads .
Another torture scene that was changed at the request of the CIA involved the use of a dog during an interrogation. The CIA “raised an objection that such tactics would not be used by the Agency. Boal confirmed in January that the use of dogs was taken out of the screenplay.”
The memo shows Mr. Boal also removed a scene that showed an intelligence officer firing an AK-47 into the air during a drunken celebration at the CIA’s request. “We insisted mixing drinking and firearms is a major violation and actions like this do not happen in real life,” the memo states.
In an e-mailed response to Gawker, Mr. Boal wrote: “We honoured certain requests to keep operational details and the identity of the participants confidential. But as with any publication or work of art, the final decisions as to the content were made by the filmmakers.”
Ms. Bigelow herself has yet to respond, but back in February, she told Time magazine “I feel we got it right. I’m proud of the movie, and I stand by it completely.” She continued to add that much of the controversy over the film has more to do with how little we still know over what really happened. “Where there’s clarity in the world, there’s clarity in the film,” she said. “And where there’s ambiguity in the world, there’s ambiguity in the film.”