A 9/11 Victim’s Family Raises New Objections to ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

By Michael Cieply New York Times

LOS ANGELES – It’s not over yet for Zero Dark Thirty – at least, not in the complaints department.

As the Oscars approach on Sunday, the film, which is nominated for five awards, including best picture, has drawn new objections from the survivors of Betty Ann Ong, a flight attendant who died in the September 11 attacks.

The survivors contend that Ms. Ong’s voice, recorded on a call from American Airlines Flight 11 before it hit the World Trade Center, was improperly used in an opening sequence of¬†Zero Dark Thirty. They are demanding an apology at the Academy Awards ceremony for using the call without consent, should the movie or any of its makers come up a winner, Harry Ong, her brother, said in an interview on Friday.

The Ong family is also asking that the filmmakers donate to a charitable foundation that was set up in Ms. Ong’s name. Further, they want Sony Pictures Entertainment, which is distributing¬†Zero Dark Thirty in the United States, to include a credit for Ms. Ong and a statement on both its Web site and on home entertainment versions of the film making clear that the Ong family does not endorse torture, which is depicted in the film, an account of the search for Osama bin Laden.

Several of the demands were sent in a Feb. 15 letter to Mark Boal, the film’s writer and one of its producers. Mr. Ong added the demand for acknowledgment at the awards ceremony when speaking on Friday.

“I thought it was just outrageous, and totally poor judgment, and an abuse of the voices,” Mr. Ong said of an opening scene that included recordings of September 11 victims and responders as they dealt with the September 11 attacks. The letter acknowledges that use of the recording “has First Amendment value.”

For more than a year,¬†Zero Dark Thirty has been dogged by criticism from politicians and others. They have variously contended that the film sought to promote Barack Obama’s political prospects, that it harmed national security interests by revealing details of the hunt for Bin Laden, or that it incorrectly credited torture as contributing to his capture.

Responding on Friday to the new claim, Mr. Boal said, in an e-mail, “As the 9/11 commission justly proclaimed, Betty Ong is without a doubt one of our national heroes.”

Mr. Boal in the past has spoken passionately about his sympathy for those who suffered losses on September 11, but has generally not mentioned the victims by name. Such a mention, in the delicate maneuverings of the awards race, might be seen as an attempt to exploit them.

In a statement, Sony and the filmmakers noted that Mr. Boal and the film’s director, Kathryn Bigelow, have been in close contact with the families of victims since releasing the film, which was privately screened for many of them. Zero Dark Thirty, the statement added, “is, in some small way, a tribute to those forever affected by the attacks.”

The statements did not say whether the filmmakers or Sony would comply with the requests for a donation and an apology and acknowledgment at the Academy Awards ceremony or elsewhere.

But Sony and Annapurna Pictures, which produced the film, have already contributed to the memorial and museum being built at ground zero, and the end of the movie includes a statement paying tribute to “the victims and the families of the 9/11 attacks,” among others. The names of victims and links to foundations are also being added to the film’s official Web site, according to a Sony spokesman.

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