How 'Zero Dark Thirty' is Viewed in Pakistan

Player utilities

This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a coproduction of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. We're smack in the middle of Hollywood's awards season and on eof the most talked about movies this year is "Zero Dark Thirty." That's director Kathryn Bigelow's gritty account of the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the raid that killed him. "Zero Dark Thirty" has been doing well at the US box office since its release in December, but in Pakistan, where the film's key action scenes are set, the film isn't even officially out. That hasn't stopped Pakistanis though from watching "Zero Dark Thirty" on pirated DVDs. Michelle Stockman is a freelance journalist in Islamabad and a self-professed film nut. You've seen it there, Michelle, how easy was it to get a copy and how much did you pay for it?

Michelle Stockman: It was very easy to get a copy. I had been watching for this video to arrive in my local pirated DVD store for basically every other day after Christmas. And it arrived just about the first or second week in January. So my husband and I went and scooped it up, and we paid just about a dollar for it.

Werman: About a dollar. What about the Pakistanis, have they also been kind of waiting anxiously for it to arrive?

Stockman: You know, it's just about now, about a month after it's become available that it really has started entering the conversation here. So I don't think there were so many people who were as anxious to see it as I was, but now that word is out it is definitely a must-see film here, although many people after they do watch it say oh, well, I'm not gonna recommend that to my friends.

Werman: So who is buying it? I mean what kind of Pakistanis would you see at your local video shop picking up a pirated copy of "Zero Dark Thirty"?

Stockman: These are going to be you know, the educated [inaudible 01:29], I would say, here in Pakistan. These are folks who are really well read, who are watching you know, culture around the world. It's not gonna be the average Pakistani who you might see on the street. These are folks who are generally Western educated, who speak English very well and who might be interested in the way Pakistan is portrayed around the world.

Werman: So how are they reacting to it, these Pakistani intellectuals? They see this movie as just a good yarn or do they see it as controversial?

Stockman: You know, it's very interesting. I have spoken to quite a few friends at parties and read a lot of columns that have appeared in newspapers lately that slammed the film for its inaccuracies. Mark Boal, the screenwriter, and Kathryn Bigelow, the director, say they went to great pains to make the film as accurate as possible, but if you're Pakistani you can pick out just blatant errors. First of all, Pakistanis speak English, Urdu or other regional languages; they don't speak Arabic as they are portrayed to do in the film. There are some scenes with men in the marketplace or wearing some 17th century headgear. But one friend who works in the public health sector here said, you know, I watched it and it was exciting, it was suspenseful, but it was an absolutely irresponsible piece of filmmaking because there's one scene that portrays a healthcare worker going to the Osama bin Laden compound and trying to vaccinate the children, to try and get some DNA that might confirm that he's there. He's portrayed as a polio worker in the film, and goes inside and is with this child…and the mother comes out dressed in a you know, fully clothed, fully covered, and grabs the child away, something that could be, could be misinterpreted. And since December there had been six polio healthcare workers who have been killed, who were gunned down while they were out on the job trying to vaccinate children.

Werman: Are you saying that's because of this movie?

Stockman: It's, it's not quite yet linked to this movie because again, this movie isn't very well known amongst the masses here in Pakistan, but the polio program has been linked by the public and by some terrorist groups to the CIA. I mean you have to look back at recent history. Around October of last year there was a film that came out on YouTube that was a very poorly produced film about the life of the prophet Muhammad.

Werman: The Innocence of Muslims, yeah.

Stockman: But there were protests for days. People died in these protests. This film has yet to trickle down I would say to become common knowledge amongst all Pakistanis, but you never know. There could be some more blowback.

Werman: I wonder if it's just going to stay on DVD, pirated DVDs. I mean it seems like "Zero Dark Thirty" could be so provocative of film in Pakistan, do you really think it'll be released there?

Stockman: I don't think it'll be released there. Many film distributors have already come out saying that they don't wanna risk the wrath of the military, of intelligence, of terrorist groups to show a film that shows one of the most embarrassing incidents in Pakistani history. So again, I think this is going to be something that if you hear about it you can easily find in your local DVD shop a pirated copy.

Werman: Journalist Michelle Stockman speaking to us from Islamabad, thank you very much.

Stockman: Thank you.