Julian Assange’s Unhappy Letter to Benedict Cumberbatch

Intertubes pin-up boy Julian Assange is all sandy-pants about the upcoming film The Fifth Estate, and has been for sometime, judging from a letter dated  January 15, 2013 to Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Assange in the Disney/Dreamworks bioflick. The letter was posted on the Wikileaks site yesterday and reveals that  the actor had approached Assange asking for meeting before the film began production. Assange declined, stating that while he was fond of Cumberbatch’s past films and would enjoy meeting Cumberbatch, but:

I believe you are a good person, but I do not believe that this film is a good film…I believe you are well-intentioned, but surely you can see why it is a bad idea for me to meet with you. By meeting with you, I would validate this wretched film, and endorse the talented, but debauched, performance that the script will force you to give.

Assange is basing his prescient review of The Fifth Estate on the source material, two books highly critical of  Wikileaks and its founder.  One of the authors, according to Assange, acted as consultant to the production. Assange points out there are far more truthful/favorable source materials available. Basically he calls Dreamworks part of the huge machine looking to break a cyber-butterfly on a wheel.  It’s all huge plot against him:

In other circumstances this vendetta [between Wikileaks/Assange and Assange's once-trusted lieutenant Daniel Domscheit-Berg, author of Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website] may have gone away, but our conflict with the United States government and the establishment press has created a patronage and commissioning market – powerful, if unpopular – for works and comments that are harmful to us.


The United States government has engaged almost every instrument of its justice and intelligence system to pursue—in its own words—a ‘whole of government’ investigation of ‘unprecedented scale and nature’ into WikiLeaks under draconian espionage laws. Our alleged sources are facing their entire lives in the US prison system. Two are already in it. Another one is detained in Sweden.

Feature films are the most powerful and insidious shapers of public perception, because they fly under the radar of conscious exclusion. This film is going to bury good people doing good work, at exactly the time that the state is coming down on their heads. It is going to smother the truthful version of events, at a time when the truth is most in demand…

Your skills play into the hands of people who are out to remove me and WikiLeaks from the world.

Reuters reports that Cumberbatch plays Assange as

rude, awkward and unkempt in the film.

At the film’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last month, Cumberbatch told reporters that while Assange would probably not like how he is portrayed in the film, The Fifth Estate is celebration of the Assange’s acheivements. In a July 2013 interview with The Guardian, Cumberbatch says that he was initially concerned that the film cast Assange–currently living in the Ecuardorian embassy in London to avoid deportation to Sweden on charges of sexual assault–as

a cartoon baddie…I think I may get my head bitten off by Disney for saying so, but everyone agreed with that.

Cumberbatch spent a great deal of time researching Assange and delving into the activist’s background and childhood in order to give a nuanced performance:

To have been a child in a single-mother relationship, being pursued around the country by an abusive stepfather who was part of a cult – to be taken out of any context where he could discover who he was in relation to other people – well, to then become a teenage hacktivist, and evolve into a cyber-journalist, to me makes perfect sense. And he’s still a runaway today. I find that profoundly moving.

If you like spoilers, Wikileaks posted a copy of the film’s script on September 18, 2013.  The Fifth Estate opens October 18, and Asssange’s letter makes me want to see it now more than ever. I wonder if Dreamworks will send Assange a screener…

21 Responses to "Julian Assange’s Unhappy Letter to Benedict Cumberbatch"
Ironcomments | Thursday October 10, 2013 11:47 am 1

Another dumb ass Hollywood trope about personalities instead of the substantive revelations provided by Wikileaks.

onitgoes | Thursday October 10, 2013 12:02 pm 2
In response to Ironcomments @ 1

But of course! You didn’t expect anything from Disney, esp, or even DreamWorks to deal in anything truly informative about WikiLeaks??

Thad Stevens | Thursday October 10, 2013 12:03 pm 3

In one of the ads on tv Assange has the word “traitor” across his head. Can anyone tell me what he did to betray Australia? Or is it simply an indication that the film makers assume everyone owes the US fealty?

kapock | Thursday October 10, 2013 12:12 pm 4

I read above:

Assange is basing his prescient review of The Fifth Estate on the source material, two books highly critical of  Wikileaks and its founder.

and also:

 Wikileaks posted a copy of the film’s script on September 18, 2013

Isn’t reading the script a valid basis for forming an opinion of what the movie will be like, without it being sarcastically referred to as “prescient”?

pastfedup | Thursday October 10, 2013 12:13 pm 5

Good on Assange for adhering to his principles. Meeting with Cumberbatch would have been portrayed by the MSM and the entertainment industry as a tacit endorsement of the film. And silence would have been portrayed as consent. Best that he spoke out against it.

Ironcomments | Thursday October 10, 2013 12:17 pm 6
In response to onitgoes @ 2

No, just that is has become so painfully obvious that the propaganda factories of Hollywood could care less about truly informing the public even though film is probably the most powerful and influential medium on the planet. The profit margin is all that matters to the zombies of Hollywood.

onitgoes | Thursday October 10, 2013 12:23 pm 7
In response to Thad Stevens @ 3

LOL!! and unsurprised. I lived downunder a while ago. USA Leadership certainly sees Australia as part of the US fiefdom, believe me. We have overthrown at least one of their lawfully elected governments, and if you pay attention, you’ll duly notice that when a new PM comes about (not directly elected, as it’s a Parliamentary system), the VERY FIRST thing they do is fly to Wash DC for an “instructive chat” with their supreme commander (not kidding).

billyc | Thursday October 10, 2013 12:40 pm 8

Since I live in a small town that very rarely shows films like The Fifth Estate I doubt that I’ll have an opportunity to view the film. If I knew that someone like John Pilger had a hand in making the film I might be willing to drive the 150 miles to a theater to see it. I prefer to wait until an award-winning documentary appears. ; )

greenwarrior | Thursday October 10, 2013 01:02 pm 9

Thanks for the heads up! I’ll plan on avoiding the film.

PillBilly | Thursday October 10, 2013 01:54 pm 10

“Intertubes pin-up boy Julian Assange is all sandy-pants about the upcoming film…” Well, that’s quite a pissy way to dismiss Assange’ concerns about the film’s portrayal of him and Wikileaks. And, regarding the statement that “Assange–currently living in the Ecuardorian embassy in London to avoid deportation to Sweden on charges of sexual assault”; I’d expect someone at CNN or MSNBC to not know that there are NO “charges” against Assange related to the incidents in Sweden over three years ago, but I’ve come to expect more informed comment here at FDL.

Also, “Asssange’s letter makes me want to see it now more than ever”. Having seen Dreamworks’ poster with “Traitor” stenciled across Assange’ face, (and having read other analysis), I’m sure that the film does NOT paint an accurate or honest picture of Assange, and more importantly, Wikileaks. Despite Assange’ personal flaws and quirks, I consider Wikileaks to be an important global journalistic enterprise. I will not be giving any money to see the corporate-contrived misrepresentation of it.

jasmine311 | Thursday October 10, 2013 02:40 pm 11

I never really got why this snarky trashing of Assange is thought to be cool, but I think it blows.

BearCountry | Thursday October 10, 2013 03:01 pm 12

Lisa Derrick, I didn’t realize that you hewed so closely to the official wh line on JA as “traitor” (to what nation?) and perpetrating “sexual assault.” I believe that I will not give you the same respect that I gave one of your fellow bloggers here and skip your work.

onitgoes | Thursday October 10, 2013 03:07 pm 13

Yes, I’m equally disappointed with the tone and wording of this post. I saw a trailer for this “film” with the attendant “Traitor” stenciled across Cumberbatch’s face (playing Assange), and my first thought was: well, I guess I won’t give Hollywood my hard-earned cash for that vile piece of propoganda.

Would love an explanation for the condescension and derision heaped upon Assange in this post. Sounds like Assange has a genuine gripe with this film, as well as with Cumberbatch, who Assange treats more graciously than how he’s been mis-characterized here.

too bad, really.

tremoluxman | Thursday October 10, 2013 04:57 pm 14

Lisa, Lisa, Lisa. Bucking for a job with the WSJ? Weak tea, sister. Weak tea.

stevelaudig | Thursday October 10, 2013 07:29 pm 15

“Cumberbatch spent a great deal of time researching Assange and delving into the activist’s background and childhood in order to give a nuanced performance:”
If you are quoting a press release from Disney you should admit and cite it.

PillBilly | Thursday October 10, 2013 08:28 pm 16

Below is link to a highly recommened 46 minute documentary of Assange’ activities during his 2010 sojourn in Sweden “Sex, Lies, and Julian Assange”. Originally aired via the Four Corners program of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. (kind of like an Aussie “Frontline”)


Lisa Derrick | Friday October 11, 2013 12:25 am 17
In response to kapock @ 4

The script was posted 9 months after this letter was written. Even if Assange had received it in January when he wrote Cumberbatch, scripts, even shooting scripts can change daily.

Lisa Derrick | Friday October 11, 2013 12:30 am 18
In response to stevelaudig @ 15

The sentence in question is not from a press release, and the citation is linked in the paragraph above it.

Lisa Derrick | Friday October 11, 2013 12:33 am 19

I used the term sexual assault since Swedish law is different than US (rape in a lesser degree?).


The warrant was appealed to the Svea Court of Appeal which upheld it but lowered it to suspicion of rape of a lesser degree, unlawful coercion and two cases of sexual molestation rather than three

The case was transferred to Chefsåklagare (Chief Public Prosecutor) Eva Finné. In answer to questions surrounding the incidents, the following day, Finné declared, “I don’t think there is reason to suspect that he has committed rape.” However, Karin Rosander from the Swedish Prosecution Authority, said Assange remained suspected of molestation. Police gave no further comment at that time, but continued the investigation.

sapphirebulletsofpurelove | Friday October 11, 2013 08:44 am 20
In response to Lisa Derrick @ 19

Now put your thinking cap on-look like political motivation there?

Lisa Derrick | Saturday October 12, 2013 04:52 pm 21

IMO, Assange was set up. But do I think Dreamworks is part of some huge orchestrated conspiracy to destroy him? No amount of tin foil could make me think that. Do I think The Fifth Estate, and by extension, Assange’s well timed release of his comments about it, will draw more attention to Wikileaks and its work: Yes. And that’s a good thing. People are fascinated by “villains” more than heroes (Joker vs Batman?)and for many in Gen Y, raised on computers, The Fifth Estate, and any dialog about it will make them look further and discover more. I am holding off my opinion on the movie until I see it. And like Kill Your Kill Your Darlingsand other biopics/based on a true story movies, there will be inaccuracies. If however, the movie draws more eyes to Wikileaks and causes people to investigate further, that’s good, in fact better than “Oh look these people are heroes, nothing more to see here, move along.”

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