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Zillah Eisenstein: DARK, ZERO-FEMINISM

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  • Ed Pearl
    From: Portside Moderator [ mailto:moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG] Sent: Monday, January 14, 2013 6:47 PM
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 15, 2013
      From: Portside Moderator [ <mailto:moderator@...>

      Sent: Monday, January 14, 2013 6:47 PM



      January 14, 2013 by zillahe


      Written two days after the nation-wide launch of ZERO DARK THIRTY; and

      One day after the Golden Globe Awards

      Zillah Eisenstein

      January 14, 2013

      Ithaca New York

      Distinguished Scholar, Ithaca College


      The film starts with a black blank screen and the voices from people stuck
      in the trade towers on that fateful day, September 11, 2001. I thought to
      myself: this is a set up to make sure we are lost to the saddened memory of
      that day, and the stance that we were wronged-and that this film will right
      this wrong.

      This trope did not work for me so the film did not work. I thought the story
      and its telling was corrupt. I thought it exposed U.S. thuggery with no
      critique of it. I thought it screamed the revenge narrative of post-
      9/11/2001 with no regret, or hesitation, or ambiguity.

      Much of the controversy about the film has centered on the illegality of
      torture and the U.S. government and CIA complicity in it. Film Director
      Kathryn Bigelow says the film merely sets out the record and does not
      condone or condemn. But this is not as it seemed to me. Critics like Jane
      Mayer of the "New Yorker" who has tracked torture memos for forever begs to
      differ as well. She says the film normalizes and naturalizes the use of
      terror in American culture. Others have argued that the film misrepresents
      the success of getting information from the practice.

      I agree with Mayer but my take is also a bit different. I actually think
      that the film presents torture but does so in very careful and limited
      fashion. I had prepared myself for the scenes and was ready to divert my
      eyes when I could bare no more. But I never had to divert my eyes. The
      audience was treated too kindly. We were not made to see the horrors of
      torture. There were glimpses and the rest was left for us to imagine, or
      not. We did not see the destruction of the human soul nor the horror of a
      broken human being. Torture leaves one no space to breathe. The fear is
      unrelenting. The humiliation is uncontrolled. If the film had been brave
      enough to really show us torture and its aftermath there would be no
      condoning or normalizing it.

      So, for me, the real problem with ZDT is that it lets the audience and the
      American public think that terrible things are allowable because they are
      doable. A courageous telling of the U.S. anti-terror narrative would demand
      critique and defiance.

      Do not confuse imperial arrogance for courage. The U.S. does what it wants
      with impudence. It single handedly invaded Pakistan in order to kill Osama
      bin Laden. Even though it was no longer clear whether bin Laden was still a
      player of any sort, or if Al Qaeda remained viably intact or a threat, the
      need for revenge, and to kill Osama had its own justifiability.

      Enter Maya. I wrote at the start of the Iraq and Afghan wars that Bush's war
      room should not use women's rights rhetoric to wrap the bombs in. Do not
      justify these wars and killing in the name of Afghan women's rights against
      the Taliban. You do not drop bombs on the women you are supposedly trying to
      save. Do not now cleanse the wars of/on terror with the face of a white
      blonde female. Do not detract from the heinous aspects of the terror war by
      making it look gender neutral.

      My point: do not justify or explain U.S. war revenge with a pretty blond
      white woman with an "obsession" to catch the mastermind of 9/11. This film
      is not to be made seemingly progressive or feminist because it presents a
      female CIA agent as central to the demise of Osama. Nor should any of us
      think that it is "good" that Maya is female, or that several females had an
      important hand in the murder of Osama. There is nothing feminist in revenge.
      We can learn from the Indian feminists just now who say that they do not
      seek the death penalty for the men responsible for the brutal death and rape
      of Jyoti Singh Pandey. Kavita Krishman says: "Gender justice needs to be
      brought and kept in the centre stage of the debate, not the death penalty".

      Maya is not believable to me. She is an awful stereotype: a driven,
      obsessive woman, alone with no friends. She has no depth. She is all
      surface. She says she prefers to drop a bomb rather than use the Seal team.
      She says she knows 100 percent that Osama is in the building. She says she
      is the "mother-fucker" who found the safe house in the first place. She
      assures the men of the Seal team that Osama is there and that they must kill
      him for her.

      I was thinking through the film-if they hate us they do so because we are
      hateful. I am sad to know that this film will be seen across the globe. It
      will be read as another story of imperial empire with a (white) female
      twist.. How unfair to all the people in the U.S. who do not choose revenge
      and murder. How unfair to my Pakistani friends who are also U.S. citizens.
      How unfair to most of us across the globe.

      I was hoping that maybe no nods would be given to Jessica Chastain for her
      role as Maya at the Golden Globes. I was hoping that no one would give a
      feminist nod to Kathryn Bigelow for directing ZDT. I was just hoping that
      maybe feminism would not get mucked up in the conversation about torture and
      the murder of Osama. But that was not to happen.

      Chastain calls Maya an "unsung hero" and I think this is deeply troubling.
      But it got worse for me when Chastain accepted the Golden Globe Award for
      best actress and thanks Bigelow for putting forward "powerful, fearless
      women" who disobey and make a difference.

      I do not like the film or the way that Bigelow and Chastain choose to depict
      it. Given both, and the way each bleeds into the other, there is no neutral
      ground here. I think it is important to reject the imperial feminism that is
      embedded here.

      It would be good to remember that there is no worthy feminism without
      justice and if there is NO JUSTICE, there is NO PEACE.


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