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Did enhanced interrogation scenes in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ dim director’s Oscar chances?

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Kathryn Bigelow also got a Bafta for 'Hurt Locker' in 2009. (AP)

“Zero Dark Thirty” just won its opening weekend at the box office, bringing in $24 million. Last week, the film earned five Academy Award nominations, including Best Motion Picture. But director Katherine Bigelow, the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar for her 2008 war drama “The Hurt Locker,” didn’t get a nod for her efforts.

“Zero Dark Thirty” star Jessica Chastain – who won a Golden Globe on Sunday for her performance in the film about finding and killing Usama bin Laden – said she was “disappointed” that Bigelow was snubbed by the Oscars because “so much of her is in my performance.”

So why did the director of the critically acclaimed film – it earned an impressive 92 percent rating on film critics aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes – get left out at the Academy Awards?

Some say it is because Bigelow incorporated controversial scenes of enhanced interrogation. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) member David Clennon, an actor best known for his portrayal of Miles Drentel in the ABC series “thirtysomething,” a role he reprised on “Once and Again,” wrote an op-ed on the Truth-Out.org website announcing his intention not to vote for the film in any Academy Awards category.

“Everyone who contributes skill and energy to a motion picture – including actors – shares responsibility for the impressions the picture makes and the ideas it expresses,” he said. “There's plenty of ‘Oscar buzz’ around ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’ Several associations of film critics have awarded it their highest honors. I have watched the film (2 hours, 37 minutes). Torture is an appalling crime under any circumstances. ‘Zero’ never acknowledges that torture is immoral and criminal.”

Clennon is apparently not alone. The actor issued a press release that said actor Martin Sheen and the former head of the Screen Actors Guild, Ed Asner, were joining his call to boycott the movie and are encouraging other Academy members to take action as well. Asner also reportedly said in Clennon’s statement that “one of the brightest female directors in the business is in danger of becoming part of the system."

Sony, the studio behind “Zero” has been quick to respond with “outrage” that Academy members would even attempt to sway the voting process. “’Zero Dark Thirty’ does not advocate torture. To not include that part of history would have been irresponsible and inaccurate,” stated Sony President, Amy Pascal. “We fully support Kathryn Bigelow and (screenwriter) Mark Boal and stand behind this extraordinary movie. We are outraged that any responsible member of the Academy would use their voting status in AMPAS as a platform to advance their own political agenda.”

But Bigelow wasn’t the only director left out of the Oscar’s Best Director lineup. Ben Affleck too was left off the nominations list for his widely-acclaimed direction of “Argo,” which also told a based-on-true-events story of a secret CIA operation, this one to extract six American diplomats out of Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. Despite missing out on the Oscar nod, Affleck won Best Director at both the Golden Globes and last week’s Critics Choice Awards, and both he and Bigelow are up for Director’s Guild of America (DGA) Awards.

Bigelow and Affleck’s twin Oscar snubs have prompted some to wonder whether there is a broader anti-American position at play among Academy voters, and scores of fans have taken to Twitter to weigh in on the debate.

“Voters say it was everything from torture to a popularity backlash,” one said, while another tweeted: “Affleck, Bigelow snubbed by Oscars for being too pro-American/anti-Islamist,” and another observed that they were “stunned by the Kathryn Bigelow best directing snub in the Oscar noms” and questioned: “is it fallout from the torture controversy?”

One Oscar watcher told us: “‘Zero Dark Thirty’ has won several major critics awards and it's nominated in other key categories. Like Affleck, it's hard to explain, and torture controversy appears to be the only possible reason.”

But not everyone agrees. “BTW, everyone talking about Affleck Oscar snub needs to remember that Kathryn Bigelow, Paul Thomas Anderson, David O Russell & QT [Quentin Tarantino] not nommed,” tweeted one, while another called the theories simply “dumb.”

“Just because a film is a box office smash doesn’t mean it’s automatically an Oscar contender,” pop culture reporter Jenn Hoffman remarked. “Some people think Bigelow did a better job directing ‘Hurt Locker,’ so it’s possible the dozens of awards she won for her previous film set the bar higher for next project.”

But producer Madison Jones, currently working with Best Director Oscar-nominee Steven Spielberg to bring a biopic of Martin Luther King’s life to the big screen, noted that the Bigelow snub was “strange.”

“She showed what was really happening,” Jones said. “Maybe sometimes ‘we can’t handle the truth.’”

The Academy did not respond to a request for comment.

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