Photo by Michael Lane.
The American military, CIA and Department of Defense all have substantial influence on Hollywood, including mainstream films like “Transformers” and “The Terminator.”
It is by no means a secret that Hollywood loves telling stories about the American military — just look at all of the war films that have been both critically lauded and commercial successes in the past century. Films such as “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” and most recently, “American Sniper,” have all garnered millions of dollars at the box office and have been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Over a dozen other military-based films have taken home the prestigious award since the first Academy Awards ceremony back in 1929.
Sometimes war films are based on real-life stories, and other times they feature completely fabricated characters. What connects all of these films, outside of how they all tell stories about the American military, is that each production received assistance from various American government agencies and military divisions.
While actual military operations involving real soldiers are invading war-torn countries around the globe, genuine soldiers and high-ranking officers are infiltrating movie sets, helping aid filmmakers in creating realistic portrayals of the brave men and women who fight for our country.
This may or may not come as a surprise, as it is no secret that soldiers assist in the weapons training that actors complete in order to feel genuine in films, with some features in the past decade, including Clint Eastwood’s “The 15:17 To Paris,” having even circumvented this by employing real-life soldiers to play the characters.
But what was unknown up until recently is that the military and government also supply a lot of the props that are used in these movies, including fighter jets, ground vehicles and aircraft carriers — sometimes at discounted rates. This leads to the government having some leverage over the film’s producers and the content within their films. Only recently has it been discovered that the Pentagon has secretly been responsible for altering hundreds of films in the past — some of which wouldn’t even be described as war films.
Studios that have films requiring military assistance first send their scripts to the Pentagon for clearance, and they either get the go-ahead or are given suggested edits. Other films are outright denied, like the decidedly anti-war classics “Platoon” and “The Deer Hunter.” The edits that are suggested can be anything from pieces of dialogue to complete shifts in tone in order to portray the military in a more positive light.
In examining 2012’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” which told the story of Osama Bin Laden’s assassination, perhaps the most egregious involvement between the government and Hollywood this decade can be found. Writer Tricia Jenkins leaked government memos in 2016 that highlighted the extent of the CIA’s involvement in the film, with alterations including the intensifying of real-world conflicts and the suppressing of governmental misconduct.
While Washington D.C. and Hollywood are nearly 3,000 miles from each other, the two appear more neighborly than previously expected.