Kathryn Bigelow’s 2012 political thriller Zero Dark Thirty was incredibly controversial (albeit successful) when it debuted last December, and the film is still making headlines over its content.
To wit, a recently declassified CIA memo shows that Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter Mark Boal agreed to an agency request to change some of the story’s material so that it wouldn’t reflect poorly on the government intelligence group.
The memo, obtained by Gawker under a Freedom of Information Act request, reveals that the CIA may have shaped Zero Dark Thirty more than previously thought, causing writer Adrian Chen to mock the film we saw in theaters as the “CIA Director’s Cut.”
There were a handful of changes to scenes involving torture, the film’s most controversial theme. In the original script, Jessica Chastain’s character initially participated in some of the “enhanced interrogation” scenes, which the CIA said were historically inaccurate.
Also removed was an early scene featuring a drunken officer firing an AK-47 into the air during a party. Per the memo:
“One scene early in the film that was objected to was a rooftop party in Islamabad where an officer, after drinking fires a celebratory burst of AK-47 gunfire into the air. We insisted mixing drinking and firearms is a major violation and actions like this do not happen in real life. We requested this be taken out of the film. Boal confirmed he took this out of the film.”
After the memo came out, Boal responded via email that authority over the final cut still belonged to the filmmakers.
“We honored certain requests to keep operational details and the identity of the participants confidential. But as with any publication or work of art, the final decisions as to the content were made by the filmmakers.”
The film’s depiction of torture still raised quite a bit of controversy when it was first released, setting off a contentious debate in the film and political community. Several sources claimed that filmmakers had somehow gained improper access to classified information, while others argued that Zero Dark Thirtycarried a pro-torture stance.
The hubbub died down after Zero Dark Thirty lost the “Best Picture” Oscar to Ben Affleck’s Argo. You can check out the full CIA memo here.