Zero Dark Thirty: Controversy Grows

On the day that “Zero Dark Thirty” hits theaters nationwide, Sony Pictures Entertainment issued a statement defending the movie after an Academy member said that he would not vote for the movie because he says it advocates the acceptance of torture.

Sony took the unusual step of issuing a statement from SPE co-chair Amy Pascal, in what it characterized as a response to public comments made by an Academy member, actor David Clennon, that he would not vote for the movie because he felt it endorsed the use of torture in the war on terror.

In her statement, Pascal said that the movie “does not advocate torture,” and criticized Clennon, for using his “voting status in AMPAS as a platform to advance their own political agenda.” She said that the statement was “an affront to the Academy and artistic creative freedom.”

Pascal’s statement came in response to a statement Clennon made in a media alert released by Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, which put together a demonstration today in front of the federal building in downtown Los Angeles.

In an e-mail, Clennon, whose credits include “thirtysomething” and more recently roles in “J. Edgar” and “The Mentalist,” said via email that “it would be tragic and stupid if this little dust-up distracts use from THE issue.” He sent a link to an op-ed he wrote for the site Truthout, posted on Wednesday, in which he made some of the same points that were made in the press advisory.

He wrote in the Truthout piece that “individuals and groups protesting the easy tolerance of torture in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ have been dismissed by some commentators as having ‘a political agenda.’ The grievous problem presented by torture is not political. It’s moral. And it’s criminal. Decent people of the left, the right and the center would all judge the torture in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ as immoral and criminal.”

The movie already has sparked a furor among some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who claim that it wrongly depicts waterboarding as beneficial to extracting valuable information in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Bigelow and Boal have defended the movie. Although it scored Oscar nominations on Thursday for best picture and for its screenplay, the surprise was that Bigelow was excluded from the nominees for director.

Pascal said, ” ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ does not advocate torture. To not include that part of history would have been irresponsible and inaccurate. We fully support Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal and stand behind this extraordinary movie. We are outraged that any responsible member of the Academy would use their voting status in AMPAS as a platform to advance their own political agenda. This film should be judged free of partisanship. To punish an Artist’s right of expression is abhorrent.

She added, “This community, more than any other, should know how reprehensible that is. While we fully respect everyone’s right to express their opinion, this activity is really an affront to the Academy and artistic creative freedom. This attempt to censure one of the great films of our time should be opposed. As Kathryn Bigelow so appropriately said earlier this week, ‘depiction is not endorsement, and if it was, no artist could ever portray inhumane practices; no author could ever write about them; and no filmmaker could ever delve into the knotty subjects of our time.’ We believe members of the Academy will judge the film on its true merits and will tune out the wrongful and misdirected rhetoric.”

In his Truthout op-ed, Clennon also wrote, “Everyone who contributes skill and energy to a motion picture — including actors — shares responsibility for the impressions the picture makes and the ideas it expresses. If I had played the role that was offered to me on Fox’s ’24’ (Season 7), I would have been guilty of promoting torture, and I couldn’t have evaded my own responsibility by blaming the writers and directors.”