Zero Dark Thirty: Girl Power

Wow, have you seen this movie? Incredible.

Before I get into anything here, let’s step out of our partisan shoes for one blog post. I do not want to get into a political discussion over truth vs. fiction in the film. This post is not about Obama; Bush; the CIA; water boarding; harsh interrogation techniques; politics of war; Muslims; the truth of the events surrounding bin Laden’s death; etc…  This is a post about freaking girl power, and how Zero Dark Thirty is a huge win for women in Hollywood and history.

I will start by saying that I was reluctant to watch this film. Maybe it was because I felt like it was released too soon after the actual raid in 2011, or maybe it was because of the political nature surrounding the events that led up to bin Laden’s death. Whatever the reason was that I stayed away from this movie while it was in the theater, I was wrong. This movie is a knockout, and should have won more awards than it did at the Oscars and Golden Globes.

I will admit that the movie does not have an easy start. Despite the fact that 9/11 was almost 12 years ago, the memories are still very fresh in my mind, and the movie scratches an open wound in the beginning by playing phone recordings from people who were killed that day. I think that this way of opening the film was necessary to set up the events that follow, and it was also a great reminder of why finding bin Laden was such a massive priority for our government. I wish that I could have pretended that “this is only a movie” while the recordings played, but it was impossible for me to not emotionally recall hearing those voices and seeing the stories on the news over the past 12 years.  I applaud the creators of the film for setting the stage this way, despite the fact that it was very difficult to hear. It was the perfect way to bring us back into the events of history. By the end of the recordings, I wanted bin Laden dead all over again.

The reason for this post, as I opened with in the first paragraph, is to praise two women who played an integral role in the success of the film: Kathryn Bigelow and Jessica Chastain. This is truly a movie about an extremely intelligent woman, played by a beautiful and talented woman, and directed by another ridiculously talented, creative, inspiring woman. I hope that people realize this when they watch the movie; these are the types of roles models that women need.

Chastain plays a young CIA intelligence officer, Maya, who has spent her entire short career with the CIA working on the case to find bin Laden. She is very young (presumably mid twenties when she arrives in Pakistan in 2003) and so incredibly sharp. Under Bigelow’s direction, Chastain does a great job portraying Maya as a young woman in a man’s world complete with all the battles she has to fight just to be heard. There are many instances in the movie where she is the only woman in a room full of men in suits (just as you imagine the CIA), and she says these snarky, powerful punch lines (credit to the writers) that made me want to stand up and cheer. One line stands out to me the most. This particular scene is when she is back at the CIA headquarters in Virginia presenting to her superiors the compound where she believes that bin Laden is hiding. She is standing off to the side, as instructed, while all these men huddle around the model of the compound grounds. The CIA director suddenly turns to her and says, “And who are you?” Maya (Chastain) snaps back at him, “I’m the mother-fucker who found the place.” I love that. Love love love it.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jessica Chastain should have won the Oscar for best actress. I do love Jennifer Lawrence, but her performance in Silver Linings Playbook is not even on the same level as Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty— not anywhere close. Chastain’s character had more depth and intensity. No doubt the role was very difficult to get into, but Chastain appears as if she had lived it herself. I’m not sure what the Academy was thinking when they voted on the winners this year, but in my opinion, they made a big mistake.

I did not know much about Kathryn Bigelow before watching this film, but I will make an effort to support any of her future projects. I was intrigued by the fact that a woman directed such an intense, masculine, military/intelligence film, not because I think that women aren’t a part of these things, but because they are typically presented by men. The good ole boys club is changing.

After the movie, I chose to view some of the special features on the DVD. It was amazing to me to watch the cuts of a woman directing all these macho actors who were dressed up in heavy military gear ready to reenact a raid to kill perhaps the most wanted man in history.  Bigelow’s artistic direction was very authentic. This was not a girly rom-com; this lady can play in the big leagues. In fact, she just set the bar for the big leagues.

I think that Zero Dark Thirty is a great step in the right direction both for Hollywood, and for societal recognition of intelligent women. I hope that when you watch this movie, you think about the powerful role of women in creating this film, and the vital role that women played in ensuring justice and making history.



2 Comments Add yours

  1. I totally agree with much of what you said. ZDT truly is a great example of a unique film with a complex protagonist portrayed by a very talented actress, a great overall cast, a deep respect for the defense community, a careful attention to detail, and a really fantastic director. For another example of a female director doing a great job leading a “boys’ club,” check out HBO’s excellent miniseries Generation Kill, which was directed by Susanna White.


    1. historywino says:

      Thank you for your comment! I’ll look into that series!


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