Did Oscar Voter Who Spoke Out Against 'Zero Dark Thirty' Run Afoul Of Academy Rules?

In case you are wondering if Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences member David Clennon ran afoul of official Academy rules regarding member behavior when he spoke out against Zero Dark Thirty at a media event today, he did not. Clennon said “I’m a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. The Motion Picture Academy clearly warns its members not to disclose their votes for Academy Awards. Nevertheless I firmly believe that the film Zero Dark Thirty promotes the acceptance of the crime of torture, as a legitimate weapon in America’s so-called war on terror. In that belief, following my conscience, I will not vote for Zero Dark Thirty in any category… I cannot vote for a film that makes heroes of Americans who commit the crime of torture.”

The Academy’s rules about member conduct do not extend to the First Amendment right of Freedom of Speech, even if someone like Clennon invokes his voting intentions to make a political point. The only time a member can seriously jeopardize their Academy standing is if a member or someone involved in a competing film makes disparaging remarks about another competing film or person such as The Hurt Locker producer Nicholas Chartier did in 2010 when he sent multiple emails urging members not to vote for Avatar which was also a Best Picture nominee that year. The Academy revoked his tickets to the Oscars but ultimately did not take the step of denying him his Oscar should the film win. It did and several days later he received his Oscar quietly from then-President Tom Sherak.

Last year actress and longtime Academy member Kim Novak took out a full page ad in Variety slamming ultimate Best Picture winner The Artist for using music from Vertigo in one scene saying “I want to report a rape”. Although it caused a headache for The Weinstein Company at the time, the Academy took no public stand since Novak was a private citizen not involved in a competing campaign and had the right to express her opinion.

Clennon’s IMDB profile clearly describes his political beliefs beginning his bio by stating, “Political activist known for hands-on approach to politics. Frequently participates in rallies, readings etc even if the cameras aren’t rolling. Has turned down roles because of his political beliefs…”

Sony co-chairman Amy Pascal put out a strongly worded statement condemning Clennon by saying in part, “we are outraged that any responsible member of the Academy would use their voting status in AMPAS as a platform to advance their own political agenda.”

Nevertheless the Academy will stay far away from commenting or doing anything about this particular incident.

Meanwhile controversy surrounding the film won’t go away anytime soon. Pascal was at today’s AFI Awards luncheon at the Four Seasons which honored the AFI top 10 films of 2012, a list that includes Zero Dark Thirty. Filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal were also in attendance. After the lunch Boal told me that although he initially was silent after U.S Senators denounced the movie as “grossly inaccurate” and launched an investigation, plus the acting head of the CIA said it does not reflect the facts, he plans to speak out more and defend his movie and the Oscar-nominated script he wrote. Although there are legal issues involved and he doesn’t want to inflame the situation he told me he can’t just sit back and stay silent. So expect to hear more on this, especially now that the film, nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture (but snubbed for Bigelow’s direction), has gone wide today and according to early box office forecasts will be Number 1 for the weekend.

      1. It is a neutral film. That SEAL raid includes screaming defenseless children. It shows an administration who wants a burden of proof to actually know if they are raiding the right compound. The character who does most of the torturing is seen to be somebody who ultimately would rather take a desk job becomes it is ‘broke’ him and becomes cynical of what detainees under duress say is truthful. Clennon is not paying attention or did not bother to watch the film after the first half-hour.

        1. When you make the heroes of your story people who torture and no regret is vocalized about the action then it’s only in the minds of fundamental supporters that it can be seen as neutral. It’s like making a film about a slaveowner then ask us not to make moral judgement on the film and the characters in it.

          Boal and Bigelow should’ve just embraced the film for what it is and made a case on freedom of speech. Now when they insist on that our own eyes are lying people resent that.

          1. I think Boal and Sony’s Amy Pascal need to talk. Pascal is screaming that the Sony film ZD30 is “nonpartisan.”

            Screenwriter Boal introduced his film last night at a WGA “Contenders” screening and was asked “How is your film playing to Arab audiences?” Boal responded that the film had not been released internationally, and when it does get released, he’s “not worried about the Arab reaction.”

            He continued that his take on Osama bin Laden is an American take, not the Arab take. He made no claims to being nonpartisan, because his film is anything but that.

          2. Nobody is canonized except maybe the SEALs in the film.

            The CIA knows torture is bad in the film or bad PR. In the Bush administration torture was largely CIA consensus, there was a reason Panetta, an outsider, was chosen. CIA are serving under an administration who is not only against torture but take a cautious approach and want more proof than what they give them. Maya looks kind of crazy counting the days since they found the compound. Dan himself voices cynicism of whether UBL is really in the compound because of his experience with detainee information.

      2. 0-Dark Thirty is an outstanding film… and….it IS nonpartisan. The people who claim it isn’t, are just biased, themselves. It told the truth and that truth apparently made some people mad. They are mad because some of the intelligence which led to the killing of Osama bin Laden was gained from torture. This, of course, flies int the face of the left’s political “message” that torture doesn’t work. Although I’m sure there are times when it doesn’t, it nonetheless did in the case of bin laden’s courier. Listen, no one likes torture. When I saw it on film I cringed but then I thought of watching my real-life-fellow Americans jumping from the World Trade Center to avoid being burned to death (and of the other 3,000 people who perished the week of September 11, 2001) and I remind myself that these psychotic terrorists would think nothing of setting of a nuclear bomb in one of our cities. They committed an act of war against us and they gave up their rights when they participated in the events of that fateful day. It is unfortunate that people were tortured. I don’t think the film glamorized torture or in any way. It happened, it was hard on all those concerned and that chapter in our history is over. Period. I will say that watching the brave, business-like manner that Seal Team Six executed their objective made me proud to be an American and grateful for all those who did what was necessary to secure our safety and freedom. Hollywood and their far-left politically correct hypocrisy can go “fly a kite” as far as I’m concerned. O-Dark Thirty was the best of all of the films by far. A classic. Plain and simple.

  1. When Jack Bauer totured many a persons in a span of multiple 24 hours no one jumped up and at him. It just goes to show the pull of one fiction over another fiction on the public. Jack Bauer lives.

  2. boy some people…. deal with it baby. its a movie. torture is sometimes needed in life… oh no! you can’t just sit there and criticize when we get attacked that not enough was done to prepare… such babies.

    1. you sound like a baby, Joshz. braver generations fought two world wars against an enemy that tortured and we despised them for it and made it an international war crime. remember the geneva convention? now americans are all gung ho for torture (even when experts in the field question it’s usefulness as well as it’s morality – exactly what the film neglects to show). what a short memory people have.

      1. Remember when the Rightwing Nuts wondered if Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow would be harassed by the Government for their filmmaking?

        I cannot believe Carl Levin and Dianne Feinstein made that jibe come true.

        This is some creepy, oppressive bullshit.

    1. I lost a relative in 9/11 — a first responder — and I deplore government-sanctioned torture. How offensive that you would appropriate my loss to make your obscene point. Shame on you.

  3. Big surprise. Of course the snub was political, versus the artistic. At least he’s honest about it. It’s a solid film, you don’t have to agree with the content, but it’s absurd to penalize the director’s narrative, because it might be offensive to your political agenda. It’s suppose to be art, no?

  4. Clennon has a point. We hanged Germans and Japanese after WWII for torturing and killing people. In those days it was called war crimes. Of course, that was before the advent of television, the opiate of the masses.

    1. Then take it to the government, the military and to those responsible for the actual torture, not to the filmmakers depicting it.

      1. no-one has a problem with the film makers ‘depicting’ torture – why do people keep thinking that is the issue? when it’s clearly not. try reading what he said again and pay attention.

  5. Congrats to Mr Clennon for stating his beliefs. We all wanted to know what he thought….
    My guess is -if it were put to a vote 95% of Americans would vote TO TORTURE the “enemy” to get any information possible. I’d personally vote YES for it. Anyone who sat thru 9/11 coverage on TV and the people of New York City would be crazy to think torture is not acceptable for this horrendous act of terrorism.

    1. The only problem is that we tortured innocent people into making false confessions then we tortured them some more to implicate other innocent people. I could torture you into confessing that you were the real mastermind of 9/11 and the Sandy Hook school shooting and a lot of other things. You would confess to anything to get the torture to stop. But I wouldn’t stop I’d continue to torture you to get you to confess to other crimes just to make myself look good to my superiors and that’s exactly what happened in the early days of our war of terror. We captured innocents on the battlefield in Afghanistan who were only defending their homeland then we shipped them to Guantanamo and tortured them. Some of them are still there even after all this time 11 years and they remain in legal limbo imprisoned for doing nothing at all.

  6. Personally i thought they did a really good job of showing how the torturing weighed on the characters… they weren’t happy to be there.. they didn’t want to be torturing, but you cannot be nice to these POS people, and people is way too kind of a word for most of them.

    1. Agreed. It was shown to be messy and the most information they got out of the chief individual was when he was actually given food, talking face to face, and not bounding him in a dark room.

  7. I think this entire discussion of the depiction of torture in Zero Dark 30 misses the point. I saw the movie. It was my opinion, that our CIA was throwing everything on the walls to see what stuck. They were desperate to elicit information on terrorists and their future plans.

    Duty One:Protect the Homeland was interpreted differently by Jessica Chastain’s character, Maya. While it seemed that other members of her group were determined to go off in a number of directions looking for “high value targets” or information, Maya’s focus was on Osama Bin Laden. Period. At a pivotal point in the film, her boss even said, “I don’t care about Bin Laden!”

    The movie absolutely did not make a case for torture. It simply acknowledged the fact that torture, along with surveillance, wiretaps, and anything else they could think of, was on the table. Ultimately, it was shown that torture did not give them Bin Laden or the courier. But it was one of the methods they used to develop information on Al Qaeda and it’s structure and how it functioned.

    We know there were renditions and that we waterboarded and humiliated subjects. We know our CIA and our government did these things. But when we see a pretty graphic depiction of this we get crazy? There were five trailers before the movie screened. All of them about murder,serial killers, kidnappings, brutalizing women, mayhem, explosions, automatic gunfire, dead bodies and lots of gore. At least in Zero Dark 30, we saw a pretty accurate depiction of things that really happened. Those trailers, and the activities depicted in Zero Dark 30, both say the same things. We need to listen.

  8. And who is this David Clennon anyway -he appears to be a tv actor, no real movie credits, why is he in the academy?

  9. I wish more voters had considered the torture the year the English Patient was nominated That film was AGONIZING and it won.

  10. I agree with David Clennon glad someone has the guts to speak out about this. If we say it is ok to torture remember other country’s will feel the same and in return WILL torture our men and women. You can say it is just a movie but it desensitizes peoples thoughts towards torture.

  11. I am an Academy member and filmmaker and would like to explain those who do not understand that just because something appears in a given movie it does not mean the film, or its creators are condoning, glorifying, or in any way supporting it. Context is everything. In the case of Zero Dark Thirty, it is a film based on fact and it is a known fact that torture in some form was taking place during the time the picture takes place. And if you watched the film carefully you would know it is not the act of torture that elicited the information that led to OBL’s eventual death, but the trick they played on their captive in lying about the embassy shooting. This film in no way glorifies torture, it simply depicts its use in a time when it is known fact it was being used. Please allow these artist be rewarded for their work in the non political forum the Oscars are intended to be and posit your political arguments in a more appropriate arena.

  12. PLEASE. This is only because a WOMAN directed the film. If Ron Howard directed this no one would say SHIT. (Except, gee, Ronny actually has TALENT)

    1. “Except, gee, Ronny actually has TALENT”

      Are we talking about the same Ronny who directed THE DILEMMA, ANGELS AND DEMONS, FROST/NIXON (lame), THE DA VINCI CODE, CINDERELLA MAN (bomb, way too long), HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, EDTV, THE PAPER, FAR AND AWAY…

      That lame-o director?

  13. I am a person ‘of new york city’ who does think it is wrong to torture. Anyone. That is not the reason i disliked this film. That has a lot more to do with narrative meandering. But please shy away from making generalizations. You may not remember or care that thousands upon thousands of new yorkers were vehemently against this ‘war on terror’ and have spent countless hours and risked much to make our voices heard. For the record, this was in response to Bluedesert.

    1. narrative meandering is right…and kind…the film, apart form its (cleverly spun)cloak of controversy, is a naked emperor.

  14. The studio & filmmakers’ defense is misleading and manipulative – nobody is saying torture should not be depicted, they are saying the film is false in implying torture led to OBL.
    Clennon is right. This is about the truth and a factually false film, not politics. The film implies ‘no torture, no Bin Laden’, which is false. The tip off came from someone who was not a CIA detainee.
    The film should not open ‘based on factual accounts’ and parade as journalism. Read the nation’s foremost expert on this, New Yorker’s Jane Meyer.
    It’s not about politics – there is bi-partisan agreement from the Senate on this, CIA etc – it’s about the truth. Hollywood can do better. It is morally reprehensible to mislead millions of viewers to think that the ends justified the means.

  15. Well one thing we, well those with active brains, can all agree on is that the First Amendment has nothing to do with it. The First Amendment prevents the *government* from enacting laws that abridge free speech; what private, non-governmental organisations do, is up to them. That, and David Clennon does seem to have his head up his own ass.

  16. The issue with ZDT isn’t whether it’s pro-torture, anti-torture or neutral. It’s that it seems like dishonest and manipulative filmmaking. Something is off when these filmamkers were given special access to inside sources to make a film, and then to spin a narrative before the fog of events had lifted. And what did they come up with? Only a ready made for awards season tale of the “woman who tracked down bin Ladin”, an account that is not squaring with emerging details about the course of events. Yes there was a woman among the other less than competent intelligence analysts at the CIA, but does anyone with the slightest critical faculties buy for one second that she loomed as large in events as this movie claims? That would be beyond gullible.
    The film just seems like a crass attempt to capitalize on events and not to document them honestly. That’s the issue with ZDT.

      1. But ZDT made a much bigger claim to being historically accurate. And so much of the reviews focused on this suppose accurate tale of the heroic woman who tracked down bin Laden. And when this account was called to the carpet, sexism was raised as a defense. I realize that Bigelow just recently said that it is not a documentary, but the liberties the film seemingly took (how events actually transpired beyond the basics is going to take some time to settle) seem highly calculated.

  17. I’m so passionate about this issue that I almost posted under my own name–but if anybody else comes out to say Zero Dark Thirty either endorses torture, or is an immoral work of art, or anything else, I am going to go insane. If Zero Dark Thirty hadn’t had the torture scenes, we would’ve been dealing with a Life is Beautiful version of the Bin Laden hunt that ignored the evils we committed in the pursuit of “Justice.” Zero Dark Thirty is a great film, and if the torture unsettles people, fine, but don’t go around saying it’s immoral. You plainly have no idea what you are talking about.

    1. That is what is driving me nuts too. If it was not there, people will be wondering if it the film was carrying the water of the gov’t to try and deny the existence of torture in that time period.

      Now I am trying to imagine a film like The Battle of Algiers being released in this climate. The film is against the use of torture but it outright states that the efficacy of torture worked. Yet it was a film that was a favorite among leftists when it was released in the 60s.

  18. - Sony & team are spinning this – nobody is criticizing the film just merely depicting torture.
    - The film is factually false in implying that torture led to finding Bin Laden.
    - In real life, the tip off came from someone who was not a CIA detainee and not tortured.
    - This is about the truth, not politics – there is bi-partisan agreement on this film is factually false, and by doing so, justifies torture as ‘means to an end” when it did not lead to finding OBL.
    - The film should not parade as journalism and open on ‘based on factual accounts”.
    - Of course, most smart viewers are not experts on the OBL mission and would have no way of knowing this. Read the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer and many others.
    - Hollywood can do better – films like this make millions of smart views think ‘well however brutal, torture was a means to an end”. The filmmakers know they got it wrong, big time, and are trying to spin this into a debate or censorship issue which it is not.

  19. Come on, most people in the Academy couldn’t even figure out their electronic ballot. The deadline had to be extended. They’re deciding which pictures get nominated and win. Who agrees that the hurt locker (16 million) was the best picture of the year against films like Avatar (2.4 billion). When did anybody vote to change the way the Academy votes. Nine movies for best picture what the hell is that. The Oscars have always been political. Their original purpose was to promote films that didn’t do well anything involving politics is going to be corrupt and suck. Harvey and George are the worst violators. Want to know the best pictures of the year? Look up box office. The public already voted. By the way… WAR… TORTURE…what would spoiled Americans know about it. Just shut Up!

  20. Yes, unless your movie goes out of its way to be anti torture, then only pro-torture people could see it as neutral. …Seems like flawless logic to me.

  21. The US is simultaneously claiming they were given unprecedented access to truth, and that they’re lying. Coincidentally, that same government is both tasked with protecting certain truths, and could be culpable if said truths got out. That adds up to you???

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