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…