Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tricia Jenkins's "The CIA in Hollywood"

Tricia Jenkins is an assistant professor in the Film, Television, and Digital Media Department at Texas Christian University. She has published several articles on the CIA in Hollywood and on the spy genre more broadly.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Chase Brandon denied assistance to The Bourne Identity (2002) for similar reasons, noting that the script was an "ugly" and "an egregious misrepresentation" of the Agency's work, and that "by page 25, [he] lost track of how many rogue operatives had assassinated people," and thus "chucked the thing in the burn bag." Michael Frost Beckner asserts that the CIA also withdrew its offer of assistance to Spy Game (2001) after the studio and the screenwriter David Arata reworked elements of his script. These revisions primarily involved the addition of the film's opening scene, in which a group of rogue CIA operatives pose as international aid doctors (which the CIA is not encouraged to do) in order to break into a prison. Chase Brandon, though, claimed that he did not support the film because when he saw the final rewrite of the script, "it had taken a turn for the worse. It showed our senior management in an insensitive light, and we just wouldn't be a part of that kind of project." Indeed, Spy Game does depict CIA leadership unfavorably, as the group works to justify letting the Chinese execute one of its own officers in order to ensure that a new U.S.-Chinese trade agreement goes through.

The refusals of assistance to these projects stemmed from the filmmakers' depictions of the CIA, which the Agency considered to be unfavorable, and thus violate the First Amendment. Even Chase Brandon has stated that "if someone wants to slander us, it's not in our interest to cooperate." But the CIA's Public Affairs Office denies that its actions are illegal. In 2008, for instance, Barry argued that free speech is not abridged by the CIA's refusal to provide government resources in support of a film project:
When a filmmaker requests resource assistance from the government, the terms of acceptance are negotiated. The government preference is to work with the entertainment industry and the middle ground is almost always sought on contentious issues. Nevertheless, sometimes filmmakers are unwilling to compromise. This occurs for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the industry's desire to produce a successful commercial enterprise. By contrast, the government's primary concern is accuracy.
This page is from a chapter of my book that looks at the ethical and legal problems raised by the CIA’s work with Hollywood. Since the mid-1990s, the CIA has tried to improve its public image in film and television to bolster recruitment, increase public support, mitigate public relations crises, and to psychologically intimidate would-be enemies. While this relationship benefits both the agency and the entertainment industry, few viewers understand how their relationship works and why it violates First Amendment laws, as well as the spirit, and perhaps even the letter, of the publicity and propaganda laws.
Learn more about The CIA in Hollywood at the University of Texas Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue