You know I have a love-hate thing with Julian Assange. I admire him and I kind of despise him. I think he’s brave and a hypocrite. But here’s something I didn’t expect: Julian Assange doesn’t understand how movies and movie promotion work. He doesn’t understand that by inserting himself into the promotion of The Fifth Estate in an attempt to ridicule the film and discourage people not to see it, he’s only giving the film additional publicity and making more people interested in it. For such a brilliant man, this is a somewhat fatal flaw. It is a flaw that reflects his own (well-known) hubris. So, in an attempt to “shame” Benedict Cumberbatch and the people who made The Fifth Estate, Assange released an “open letter” on WikiLeaks yesterday. You can read the full thing here – it’s very long. Assange is incapable of pith. He is neither witty nor conversational. He’s a blowhard. Here’s an edited version:
Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2013
From: Julian Assange
To: Benedict Cumberbatch
Subject: Message from Assange
Thank you for trying to contact me. It is the first approach by anyone from the Dreamworks production to me or WikiLeaks. My assistants communicated your request to me, and I have given it a lot of thought and examined your previous work, which I am fond of. I think I would enjoy meeting you.
The bond that develops between an actor and a living subject is significant. If the film reaches distribution we will forever be correlated in the public imagination. Our paths will be forever entwined. Each of us will be granted standing to comment on the other for many years to come and others will compare our characters and trajectories.
But I must speak directly…I believe you are a good person, but I do not believe that this film is a good film. I do not believe it is going to be positive for me or the people I care about. I believe that it is going to be overwhelmingly negative for me and the people I care about. It is based on a deceitful book by someone who has a vendetta against me and my organisation.
In other circumstances this vendetta 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.
There are dozens of positive books about WikiLeaks, but Dreamworks decided to base its script only on the most toxic. So toxic is the first book selected by Dreamworks that it is distributed to US military bases as a mechanism to discourage military personnel from communicating with us. Its author is publicly known to be involved in the Dreamworks production in an ongoing capacity.
I know the film intends to depict me and my work in a negative light. I believe it will distort events and subtract from public understanding. It does not seek to simplify, clarify or distil the truth, but rather it seeks to bury it.
My organisation and I are the targets of political adversary from the United States government and its closest allies. 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.
The studio that is producing the film is not a vulnerable or weak party. Dreamworks’ free speech rights are not in jeopardy – ours are. Dreamworks is an extremely wealthy organisation, with ties to powerful interests in the US government.
I believe that you are a decent person, who would not naturally wish to harm good people in dire situations. You will be used, as a hired gun, to assume the appearance of the truth in order to assassinate it. To present me as someone morally compromised and to place me in a falsified history. To create a work, not of fiction, but of debased truth. Not because you want to, of course you don’t, but because, in the end, you are a jobbing actor who gets paid to follow the script, no matter how debauched.
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. I cannot permit this film any claim to authenticity or truthfulness. In its current form it has neither, and doing so would only further aid the campaign against me. It is contrary to my interests, and to those of my organisation, and I thank you for your offer, and what I am sure is your genuine intent, but I must, with inexpressible regret, turn it down.
I’m guessing this is the letter that Benedict received just days before he began filming The Fifth Estate. Cumby has said in previous interviews that he asked for changes to be made to the script before Assange even wrote this letter, and that this letter didn’t really change the way he felt about Assange. I believe Benedict even wrote him back too, right? Anyway, I love that Assange has just gone full-on tin-foil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist. “Dreamworks is an extremely wealthy organisation, with ties to powerful interests in the US government.” Yes, Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen all donate heavily to the Democratic party. That is their “tie to the US government” – they donate money to the candidates they like. This is basically like the most annoying, windbaggy Dear John breakup letter ever. Assange is SO OVER IT, Benedict. Now I have an image of Assange listening to Adele’s “Someone Like You” on repeat while he stares at a photo of Cumbercurls.
Oh, and yes… about those Cumberbatch photos from Esquire… um… it’s okay if I moaned a little, right?
Photos courtesy of Esquire, The Fifth Estate.