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Arts and Entertainment

Kathryn Bigelow Defends 'Zero Dark Thirty' Torture Scenes: 'Depiction Is Not Endorsement'

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Director Kathryn Bigelow has faced heat for her quasi-journalistic portrayal of the hunt for Osama bin Laden "Zero Dark Thirty"—not just from film critics and activists but also U.S. senators and the C.I.A. chief himself.

An early scene in the movie shows a terrorist suspect being waterboarded and subject to other forms of torture and humiliation. The suspect offers a useful piece of information that ultimately helps their cause, and this is what has critics riled up. They say the film portrays torture as a crucial step in the process of finding bin Laden, which the C.I.A. and senators call "fiction."

Bigelow expanded on statements that she has given earlier about the importance of the controversial torture scenes in the film in a piece in the Los Angeles Times. Bigelow says that she didn't want to shy away from the uncomfortable parts of the hunt for 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."
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Bigelow describes herself in the piece as a "lifelong pacificist" who was not attempting to glorify violence as her critics suggest:

"Those of us who work in the arts know that depiction is not endorsement. If it was, no artist would be able to paint inhumane practices, no author could write about them, and no filmmaker could delve into the thorny subjects of our time."

She says the controversy her film has stirred up would be better aimed at the U.S. government itself than the film that depicts them:

But 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.