Yesterday L.A. Times Steven Zeitchik and Nicole Sperling posted a story about Sony’s mishandling, certainly from an awards perspective, of the Zero Dark Thirty takedown. As we all know Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal‘s film was zotzed by a series of articles and statements claiming that it endorsed torture. The bottom line is that Sony decided against responding to the charges in order to make more money at the box-office.
The Times story reiterates what was obvious to anyone following the ZD30 situation two months ago (or more specifically from early to late December), and then offers an explanation: Sony felt that getting into a debate with critics would scare audiences away, and so they went for the money. And yet they had to know, or at least strongly suspect, that industry sheep (including the Oscar-prognosticating kind) would be intimidated by the controversy and that maintaining silence would hurt the film awards-wise.
This is what corporations do, of course, and I don’t mean this as a criticism of the Sony guys. It’s just a statement of behavioral fact as explained by Joel Bakan‘s “The Corporation.” Bakan’s book (and the same-titled 2004 documentary based on his book) explained that corporations are, no offense, essentially sociopathic in the sense that they have only one goal, which is to maximize profit at all costs. So when it came to defending or not defending the honor and integrity of one of their films, the only question that really mattered to Sony was “which response will increase profits?”
Would Zero Dark Thirty have gone down to awards defeat even if Sony and the filmmakers had pushed back early and hard? Perhaps. Hard to say. Would a strong debate about the film being pro-torture or simply honest about what happened in the hunt for Osama bin Laden have hurt the box-office or perhaps cost several million dollars in revenue? Maybe. Who knows? I’m not saying Sony was wrong in how they played it. I’m just saying they played it the way any corporation would have.
“Sony and the filmmakers faced a dilemma, according to a series of recent interviews,” the article says. “Should they respond forcefully to the criticism and attempt to wrest control of the narrative? Or remain relatively quiet and try not to stoke the flames?
“Sony opted for the latter, partly concerned that fanning the flames would keep moviegoers away. And while the gambit paid off — the movie has grossed $85 million in the U.S. — the strategy appears to have hurt the film on the awards front. En route to Sunday’s Oscars, Zero Dark has been nearly shut out of awards — save for a Golden Globe and a Writers Guild prize — to some degree, voters say, because of the torture controversy.
“The filmmakers, who maintained that their movie takes no explicit position on torture, wanted to reply, and expressed [this desire] in a series of meetings with Sony and its awards consultants, according to a person familiar with the discussions who was not allowed to speak about them publicly.
“But the studio was concerned that a prolonged debate could deter moviegoers from coming out to see the film — would people want to see a movie if they were constantly being reminded by news headlines that it featured scenes of torture? They pleaded for silence until the Jan. 11 national release, hoping the furor would die down, the person familiar with the talks said. (Neither Bigelow nor Sony executives would speak on the record for this story.)”
On 12.24.12 I wrote the following: “The only thing that can save Zero Dark Thirty in the Best Picture race is a loud, coordinated, balls-out, full-court-press response by Sony Pictures publicity and the filmmakers and their top defenders, standing (or sitting) together at a press conference and declaring once and for all that ZD30 has been painted with smears by people with an agenda, and that it’s gotten out of hand and that the record is clear among those in the know and so on.
“Sony, in short, has to man up. They have to get tough and militant and explicit about this and slap down the film’s accusers and tell them to go eff themselves…or it’s over. It may be over already. I don’t know.
“I do know that this morning a CBS This Morning anchor stated that Sony “hasn’t responded” to the ZD30-criticizing letter from Acting CIA Director Michael Morell or to a similar letter written to Sony by Senators Diane Feinstein, John McCain and Carl Levin.
“Even with holiday distractions and whatnot, Sony’s silence on this matter has been deafening.”
Three days later (or 12.27.12) I wrote the following: “In an interview with N.Y. Times reporter Brooks Barnes, Kathryn Bigelow said she “was not particularly keen to discuss torture over lunch, partly because she wants her work to speak for itself and partly because she is aware that any public comments could just add fuel to the fire.”
“I love and admire Bigelow, but c’mon. The anti-ZD30 rhetoric has obviously been raging over the Christmas holidays, and it’s become clear that the Hollywood Stalinists have probably succeeded in tarring and feathering ZD30 by persuading those who refuse to venture beyond party-chat points that the film is pro-torture (which it’s NOT) and is therefore pushing a politically incorrect narrative. So at this point a little lighter fluid by way of a quote given to Barnes would hardly fucking matter.
“If I were Bigelow I would at least acknowledge that the Stalinists have probably wounded ZD30 badly enough to deny it the Best Picture Oscar, and that I hope they’re happy about that. I would also thank the Stalinists for giving us all an education about the hidden side of their nature.
“On top of which if there’s one thing that the Stalinist attack pieces have made clear, it’s that ZD30 isn’t speaking for itself in terms of this topic. As Barnes observes, ZD30‘s torture scenes “are presented with no obvious political tilt, creating a cinematic Rorschach test in which different viewers see what they want to see.”