Despite five Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, has generated controversy due to its depiction of harsh interrogation methods.
Zero Dark Thirty tells the behind-the-scenes story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. It shows intelligence techniques used to find the Al Qaida leader, including the enhanced interrogations which many call torture.
Bigelow says those scenes are based on true accounts and were necessary to the narrative.
“What was important is to be accurate and to be authentic," she says. "Granted, it’s not an easy subject, but it’s also pretty irrefutable that that was part of this 10-year long hunt.”
The film has come under fire from some lawmakers who say it portrays harsh interrogations - like waterboarding, which similates the sensation of drowning - as an effective means of gathering intelligence.
Several senators, including Republican John McCain, have called the film "grossly inaccurate and misleading."
“You believe when watching this movie that waterboarding and torture leads to information that leads then to [the] elimination of Osama bin Laden," McCain said. "That’s not the case.”
Yet, two days after the killing of bin Laden in May 2011, Republican Congressman Peter King, who chaired the House Committee on Homeland Security, said waterboarding played a major role leading to the attack on bin Laden.
“I have spoken to people who are very close to the situation who said initial information came from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after he was waterboarded," King said.
Later, King requested an investigation of CIA and the Department of Defense officials for allegedly leaking sensitive information to the filmmakers.
Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter Mark Boal dimisses the criticism
“A movie that takes you behind the scenes in a world that, quite frankly, is cloaked from public view and that's all pretty good things," Boal says.
Zero Dark Thirty is not the first film to show enhanced interrogation in detention centers outside the U.S.
Alex Gibney’s Oscar-winning documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, includes real footage of interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Another director, Laura Poitras, shed light on enhanced interrogations at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center in her 2010 documentary The Oath.
“I don’t think Americans have really grappled with the last nine years of our history," Poitras said. "That we’ve legalized torture, that we’ve created illegal prisons.”
Some critics disapprove of the interrogation scenes in Zero Dark Thirty because, they say, they condone torture as a means to an end.
Kathryn Bigelow says her film reflects the truth.