Zillah Eisenstein: DARK, ZERO-FEMINISM
- 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
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 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
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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