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 didn’t want to sound douchey, but he did have to run!
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.
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.)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.”
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.
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.