Kathryn Bigelow Pens Op-Ed Defending Zero Dark Thirty’s Torture Use

Director/Producer Kathryn Bigelow on the set of Columbia Pictures' thriller ZERO DARK THIRTY.
Photo: Jonathan Olley

Zero Dark Thirty came out about a month ago, and through all of the fawning by critics, the award nominations, and strong box-office returns, it continues to be surrounded by the hum of controversy. While a director like Kathryn Bigelow would usually be spending this time working on Best Picture acceptance speeches, she instead is having to defend her film’s portrayal of torture. The L.A. Times had her write an op-ed elaborating on her position. 

Her main argument can be summed up with this sentence: “Those of us who work in the arts know that depiction is not endorsement.” Just because the film shows torture doesn’t mean she approves of it. (Our critic, David Edelstein, addresses Bigelow’s argument, which she also recently made at a New York Film Critics Circle dinner, here.) To her, she is just presenting this story for others to make their own decisions. And to that point, she asks if the target of this outrage is misplaced: “I do wonder if some of the sentiments alternately expressed about the film might be more appropriately directed at those who instituted and ordered these U.S. policies, as opposed to a motion picture that brings the story to the screen.”

She continues by answering the criticism that it was inaccurate and misleading to show that torture was used in helping fine bin Laden: “As for what I personally believe, which has been the subject of inquiries, accusations and speculation, I think Osama bin Laden was found due to ingenious detective work. Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt. That doesn’t mean it was the key to finding Bin Laden. It means it is a part of the story we couldn’t ignore. War, obviously, isn’t pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences.” 

She doesn’t, however, begrudge those who are complaining. She supports “American’s 1st Amendment right” to both “create works of art … without government interference or harassment” and to “[protest] against the use of torture, and, quite simply, inhumane treatment of any kind.” 

Bigelow Pens Op-Ed on Zero Dark Thirty’s Torture