Taxi to the Dark Side, a documentary about an innocent Afghan taxi driver tortured to death by U.S. officials at Bagram Air Base, has received wide critical acclaim since its debut in April at the Tribeca Film Festival. The New York Times’s A.O. Scott said, “If recent American history is ever going to be discussed with the necessary clarity and ethical rigor, this film will be essential.”
Director Alex Gibney agreed to sell the rights of Taxi to the Discovery Channel because executives convinced him they would “give the film a prominent broadcast.” Now, however, Discovery has dropped its plans to air the documentary because the film is too controversial. Gibney responded to the news in a press release this week:
Now, I am told that ‘it doesn’t fit into Discovery’s plans,’ and that the film’s controversial content might damage Discovery’s public offering.
Having directed ‘Enron,’ very little about this kind of corporate behavior shocks me, but I am surprised that a network that touts itself as a supporter of documentaries would be so shamelessly craven. This is a film that, in an election year, is of critical interest to the viewing public. What Discovery is doing is tantamount to political censorship.
It’s ironic that Taxi’s content is too “controversial,” considering it depicts real acts perpetrated by the current Bush administration. In an interview with the Center for American Progress, Gibney noted that Americans are excited about dramatizations of torture, such as in the show 24, but uncomfortable “with the reality of torture.” Listen to the interview here:
As Gibney added in the press release, “In refusing to air the film, Discovery is perpetuating what has become the policy of this government: it is ok to employ torture, just not to show it.”
GIBNEY: We know that “24” is a very popular show, and, you know, week after week after week, Jack Bauer would brutally torture people. In fact, we have a couple of clips from “24” in the film “Taxi to the Dark Side.” Some people seem to get off on that. It’s kind of natural, I suppose, feeling of revenge and retribution for what happened to us on 9/11. Jack Bauer in our names can go and really brutalize the enemies of America.
But I think it is true that some Americans are uncomfortable with the reality of torture, or perhaps, it’d be fair to say, too comfortable with torture without really understanding what it means. I think everyone was horrified by the pictures at Abu Gharib. But there is for some people, I think, a willingness to say, look, let them do what has to be done, so long as it protects us. But as Alberto Mora, former General Counsel for the Navy says in the film, we fight not only to defend our lives, we fight to defend our principles. So it remains to be seen.
I do think that mood is changing, and I do think there are a lot of people who are just furious at what’s been done in our name, and also when they realize how deeply ineffective it is. That’s one thing that people don’t really get. Torture, even though the Bush administration never uses that word, they say “We don’t do torture,” because they define it out of existence. But what you learn about torture — and this administration has authorized torture, there’s no question about it — is torture is deeply ineffective and unreliable.