It looks like the U.S. Senate, a body used to politics of every stripe, is now injecting itself into Hollywood’s Oscar politics by taking visible public stands on two major Oscar contenders, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty. Disney/Fox/Dreamworks’ Oscar contender Lincoln was the beneficiary of an almost unheard of bi-partisan screening for the U.S. Senate tonight. But that was almost overshadowed earlier today when Deadline broke news of a bi-partisan letter from three key U.S. Senators, Republican John McCain and Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin, to Sony Pictures. It complained about certain aspects of the depiction of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden as characterized in the studio’s major Oscar contender Zero Dark Thirty. (It opened today in limited release and goes wide on January 11th, the day after Oscar nominations are announced). The scenes in question were roundly denounced by the trio: “We write to express our deep disappointment with the movie Zero Dark Thirty. We believe the film is grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location of Osama bin Laden.” They said they have reviewed CIA records and know the film’s “implications” are incorrect.
Whether this kind of ringing denouncement of the admittedly “fictional” film about the hunt for bin Laden is true or not, this is not the kind of publicity the studio wants for its Oscar campaign even though controversy is usually great for box office. With Oscar voting just starting this week any suggestion that the film’s credibility is lacking (particularly from the likes of such high ranking members of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee and Select Committee on Intelligence) is not generally on any Oscar strategist’s wish list. But Zero Dark Thirty has been enveloped in controversy right from the beginning, and today Sony strongly suggested that the pic is being misunderstood in certain quarters. The Senators are asking the studio to put a disclaimer on the film regarding events depicted as “facts” in the movie. Whether that has any ultimate effect on the film’s awards prospects, particularly at the Oscars, remains to be seen. So far it has cleaned up with critics groups’ year-end honors and fared very well with Golden Globe and Critics Choice Movie Awards nominations. It was also named one of the AFI’s top 10 movies of the year.
Controversies like this have made their mark in past Oscar races with mixed results. Attacks on the credibility of the 1999 biopic, The Hurricane, in which Denzel Washington played boxer (more…)