The Wall Street Journal reports that, just as was the case after the death of Osama bin Laden when movie projects on the subject became hot Hollywood currency, a number of studios are contemplating biopics about Julian Assange. The Wikileaks founder’s story is undoubtedly commercially compelling, whether someone’s looking to make a technological thriller with more realistic politics than Hackers, a movie about indefinite detention, given the consequences Bradley Manning has faced for giving documents to Assange, or a spy-ish picture that raises more intelligent questions about the impact and viability of government secrecy. Any and all of those movies would be fascinating things to see Hollywood try to attempt, though the results would inevitably vary.
But I’m honestly curious to see if any of the studios in contention here are going to focus on the sexual assault charges against Assange, and if so, how they’ll handle them. Assange has always seemed like a fascinating case for how powerful people prioritize the treatment of women and the abuse of them by powerful men when other issues they care about are at stake. If you support Assange’s work, as filmmakers like Michael Moore and Ken Loach, who put up bail money for him in his sexual assault case did, that does not mean he’s incapable of committing assault, that the charisma that won Assange supporters also rendered his negotiations of consent with women he had sex with clear and uncomplicated. Trying to balance the presumption of innocence and the idea that rape victims, who are particularly subject to discrediting and shaming when they come forward, deserve respect and the opportunity for a fair hearing is something that appears difficult enough for our society. A case like Assange’s, in which some of his famous supporters often couldn’t stop at asserting his right to a presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial, heightens that challenge, plays it out on an international scale. A movie that can even lay out those issues cogently, much less suggesting any sort of solution, would be a real accomplishment.