On September 19, 2001, eight days after the terrorist attacks on America, film producer/director Edward Zwick was interviewed by Val Zavala on Life & Times Tonight, which airs nightly on KCET in Los Angeles, California.
VAL Tonight we want to focus on a film that came out three years ago. It's a depiction of a series of terrorist attacks in New York and it has an ominous ring of authenticity. It's called "The Siege," and it focuses on what happens after Arab terrorists strike at the heart of Manhattan. Of particular interest is how innocent Arab-Americans are rounded up in the wake of those attacks. The producer and director of "The Siege" was Ed Zwick. I spoke with him about his film and last week's real-life attacks.
VAL Edward Zwick, thank you for being with us on Life and Times Tonight. We just saw a clip from your movie, "The Siege", which came out three years ago. Tell us a little bit about the controversy. Remind people of the controversy that revolved around that movie at the time.
ED ZWICK Well, there were those who took exception to the portrayal of radical Islam making an attack on the United States. I had had the experience in the research for the movie of spending a good deal of time with the Justice Department and the Department of Defense and many from the Joint Terrorism Taskforce, who looked upon these events with a certain tragic inevitability. They believe that it was not a question of if it would happen, but when and at what scale. The remarkable thing and the tragic thing is that none of us could have imagined the scale.
VAL What struck me is that the clip that we saw of the movie literally could have been the news. The phrasing was the same, the kind of things that were happening.
ED ZWICK You can always anticipate that a certain number of people are going to grandstand, a certain number of people are going to stake out their positions politically. They're going to use this as an opportunity to, you know, saber-rattle, but our intention, I think, was to try to talk about the denial that we've all lived under and the realities that we're now all going to have to face.
VAL You mean your intention in making the movie three years ago?
ED ZWICK In making the movie. Absolutely, because if you look at the movie, it's very much about what civil liberties are we prepared to sacrifice for the sake of prosecuting a war an unseen enemy? Are we willing to abnegate certain privileges and rights? privacy? speech? whatever? assembly? for the sake of actually dealing with something that's very pernicious and has been the plague of every other country but America for the last thirty years?
VAL So what you dealt with in fiction we're going to have to deal with in real life?
ED ZWICK I'm afraid so.
VAL Do you feel that movies that are using terrorists as the villains, and there's many, many of them out, some of them have been pulled recently, are they positive influence, are they negative influence? Does it depend on the particular plot of the movie? How do we judge these?
ED ZWICK Well, I mean, I don't think it has any role on the actual events between nations, but I think those Arab-Americans in this country have a legitimate case when they suggest that they've been demonized. I think it's
VAL By Hollywood?
ED ZWICK Yeah. I think it's too easy often to find a villain out of the headlines and to then repeat that villainy again and again and again. You know, traditionally, America has always looked to scapegoat someone as the boogie man.
VAL Well, if the Arab terrorist is now the favorite villain of Hollywood, you're saying that may in fact prejudice the American public against Arab-Americans?
ED ZWICK Well, I think after this event, I think, based on what I've heard of certain demurral to release movies, there will be some greater hesitancy and sensitivity to do that because it may seem too painful and to reflect too much of what's just happened.
VAL A hesitancy to use Arab terrorists?
ED ZWICK Yeah. But, you know, there is a tradition in the most simplistic of action movies for there to be some horrible villain. And some filmmakers, I think, of lesser ability tend to look at the easiest and the path of least resistance and that's to choose the one that's most in the headlines.
You know, that was the basis of some of the controversy about our film because indeed you could look at it simplistically and say we were doing that. I think we went to great lengths to try to give a very complex portrait of, you know, those Arab-Americans who were in fact in defense of the constitution and the country, one of whom was a federal agent in the movie.
ED ZWICK It's a very pernicious situation because you also want to tell the truth. You want to say that there is such a thing as radical Islam. It is a problem. It is differentiated from, you know, the twenty million muslims in America who are, you know, law-abiding, but that's the issue. Those people in a hellacious situation and those of us having to reconcile this country being made up of so many different ethnicities, in this case one that's
VAL But you're saying that it really if you're going to, for example, use an Arab terrorist as the villain in the movie, that it helps, you're saying, to also portray the complexity of the Arab-American community not just to the black and white cardboard cutout?
ED ZWICK Well, of course, no community is a monolith. In this case, it has to be understood that this is a very radical fringe. This is not even reflection of a nation.
VAL But it's up to, say, a filmmaker to put that in perspective, yes? And to say this is an extreme fringe, this is not all of
ED ZWICK -- Yes. The hard thing, and I include myself, it's very hard because film is finally very over-simplified in two hours. How complex a political discussion can you give? How dimensional a portrait can you provide
VAL And still do what you mainly want to do, which is entertain.
ED ZWICK -- And still bring people into the theaters and sit in the seats, and that's the challenge.
VAL That is the challenge.
ED ZWICK You bet.
VAL Edward Zwick, thank you so much for being with us. We really appreciate your thoughts.
ED ZWICK It's my pleasure. Thank you.
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