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The Boston Globe

Opinion

NEAL GABLER

Hard facts vs. big truths

Do artists have an obligation to get history right in films?

You wouldn’t think that the CIA could affect an Oscar race, but the denial of a best director nomination to Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty’’ probably has less to do with the film’s aesthetic merits than with the controversy that has been swirling around it. Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, who were both responsible for 2009’s Oscar-winning “Hurt Locker,” open their tale of the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden with a scene of excruciating torture, after which the detainee spills a drop of information that later helps lead to bin Laden’s death. This has sent some critics of the film into paroxysms of anger. They fume that the movie is factually wrong when it shows the efficacy of torture and that it winds up celebrating waterboarding. Dan Froomkin on The Huffington Post called the movie “despicable.”

This certainly isn’t the first time that a movie has gotten clobbered for seemingly playing fast and loose with facts, though it may be the first time that an acting director of the CIA and three members of the Senate Intelligence Committee — Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, and John McCain — scolded a film for doing so. Even Oliver Stone, who has been accused of playing with facts in his own historical films, chided the film for its historical inaccuracy, which certainly seems to be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

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