Zero Dark Thirty gang change their tune!


Pretty much as we told you: Last Friday, Salon posted the transcript of an interview with Mark Boal, screenwriter and producer of Zero Dark Thirty.

“Zero Dark Thirty goes feminist,” said the headline on the Irin Carmon piece. You could tell that Boal is strongly feminist, based on this statement to Carmon:
CARMON: I don’t know if you saw the review that our film critic at Salon, Andrew O’Hehir, wrote—

BOAL: I probably did at some point. I have to get on a helicopter—I’m gonna sound really douchey, but I have to get on a helicopter in a second.
Boal didn’t want to sound douchey, but he did have to run!

Whatever! Let’s move to the larger story:

In her assessment of the interview, Carmon suggests that the ZD30 gang are changing the way they’re selling the film, in an attempt to salvage its Oscar chances. She said they’re shifting the focus away from torture and the hunt for bin Laden.

Instead, they’re suddenly selling the film as a statement about gender politics—as a feminist film:
CARMON (2/1/13): But after several weeks of defending themselves against charges that the film’s representation of the hunt for bin Laden suggests that torture was an effective and important tool, the film’s creators are ready to change the subject. Now they want to talk about women, in the film and beyond. (It might also be an effort to salvage the film’s Academy Award hopes; “Argo” has gained momentum at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards, and some have suggested Hollywood wants to avoid the torture controversy.)

After all, the character of Maya, the determined CIA agent whom the film depicts as most responsible for finding bin Laden in Abbottabad, needed to convince all the cautious and careerist men above her that she’d really found the al-Qaida leader’s hiding place.

Director Kathryn Bigelow has also lent her name, along with the likes of Katie Couric and Jonah Hill, to a social media campaign billed as a “salute to heroic women,” tying the film to the lifting of the ban on women in combat. “Zero Dark Thirty” screenwriter and producer Mark Boal spoke to Salon yesterday about the gender politics of the movie.
What makes ZD30 a feminist film? The Maya character “needed to convince all the cautious and careerist men above her that she’d really found the al-Qaida leader’s hiding place.”

Just for the record: When we wrote about Zero Dark Thirty, we said this was the only theme we actually saw in the film—and we said that ZD30 practically hits you over the head with this theme. We said we’re typically drawn to that theme in films, but we found it just a bit cynical here, given the global political framework in which the theme is wrapped.

For those reasons, we were intrigued by Salon's interview with Boal. Carmon’s impression? Bigelow and Boal are now selling the film in a new-and-improved, all-different way, as a feminist picture.

Our own impressions: Watching this film, we saw no sign that Bigelow and Boal have any global political views at all. We saw no sign that they have any views about torture, except as a way to keep people looking.

We said they were letting us ogle Jessica Chastain as another to way to keep us looking. And sure enough! If you look at the full-page ads now running in the New York Times, they feature slightly disheveled glam shots of Chastain—and no other visual cues at all. A reader is given no other clue as to what this film is about.

It's pretty much as Carmon said: bin Laden is gone from the marketing. What's left is the determined young woman who stood up to the male bureaucrats.

Our impression? Kathryn Bigelow doesn’t come from the world of politics and ideas. She comes from the world of exciting movies which find ways to make you keep looking.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Like Boal, we wouldn’t want to sound douchey about this feminist film.


  1. My wife's comment on the way out of the theater was that she saw Maya's dogged determination and assembling of random pieces of information -- the long, patient slog -- as a contrast to the "easy" way of torture which seemed to disgust her.

    Interesting perspective: if valid, Bigelow would have a worldview other than feminism after all.

  2. Our impression? Kathryn Bigelow doesn’t come from the world of politics and ideas. She comes from the world of exciting movies which find ways to make you keep looking.

    Yeah, and Rush Limbaugh is just an entertainer. Nobody takes his outrageous ideas and statements on political issues seriously.

    But I don't blame B&B for crawfishing away from this unpleasant consequence of mistakenly portraying torture as somehow helpful in the hunt for Bin Laden. I'd probably back away from that too, were I in their place. Giving them the benefit of the doubt that they were just trying to be good "journalists" of the operation and that they had to include some kind of torture scene because torture did happen, they still seem to have screwed it up and given people the impression that it was necessary to the success of the operation. That's not "journalism," that's pro-torture advocacy, and that's what they're being roasted for.

    This exchange from the Salon article is interesting:

    Carmon: Then there’s this theory that the character of Maya is a mirror image of how Kathryn Bigelow sees herself, or that there was a lot of Kathryn Bigelow there.

    Boal: I think that’s probably overstated. I don’t know, you’d have to ask Kathryn, but I certainly wasn’t scripting it that way. There’s a little bit of Joan of Arc in Maya, and I think that Kathryn was interested in sort of Joan of Arc for a long time. I’d say that’s probably closer to it.

    See, ZD30 is really just a modern-day Hunger Games. Yeah, that'll work.

  3. "Our impression? Kathryn Bigelow doesn’t come from the world of politics and ideas. She comes from the world of exciting movies which find ways to make you keep looking."

    More specifically, to make you keep looking at Chastain as "glam shot" honey.

    I do not think this qualifies as feminism. Rather the opposite.

  4. I'm a film producer and run a video production business. With that stated, I really did enjoy Zero Dark Thirty. Even with the small budget I think Kathryn Bigelow did a great job and casted the roles extremely well.

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