The MPAA has rejected advertising materials for Alex Gibney’s documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side,” which traces the pattern of torture practice from Afghanistan’s Bagram prison to Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay.
ThinkFilm opens the pic, which is on the Oscar shortlist of 15 docs, on Jan. 11.
The image in question is a news photo of two U.S. soldiers walking away from the camera with a hooded detainee between them.
An MPAA spokesman said: “We treat all films the same. Ads will be seen by all audiences, including children. If the advertising is not suitable for all audiences it will not be approved by the advertising administration.”
According to ThinkFilm distribution prexy Mark Urman, the reason given by the Motion Picture Assn. of America for objecting to the poster is the image of the hood, which the MPAA deemed unacceptable in the context of such horror films as “Saw” and “Hostel.” “To think that this is not apples and oranges is outrageous,” he said. “The change renders the art illogical, without any power or meaning.”
The MPAA rejected the one-sheet for Roadside Attractions’ 2006 film “The Road to Guantanamo,” which featured a hooded prisoner hanging from his handcuffed wrists. At the time, according to Howard Cohen, co-president of Roadside Attractions, the reason given was that the burlap bag over the prisoner’s head depicted torture, which was not appropriate for children to see.
“Not permitting us to use an image of a hooded man that comes from a documentary photograph is censorship, pure and simple,” said producer, writer and director Gibney. “Intentional or not, the MPAA’s disapproval of the poster is a political act, undermining legitimate criticism of the Bush administration. I agree that the image is offensive; it’s also real.”
After an initial objection from the MPAA’s advertising administration, ThinkFilm plans to submit the one-sheet for a final ruling.
If ThinkFilm ignores the MPAA and uses materials that have not been approved, it runs the risk of having the rating revoked, which is what happened earlier this year to “Captivity.”
The “Taxi” ad art is actually an amalgam of two pictures. The first, taken by Corbis photographer Shaun Schwarz, features the hooded prisoner and one soldier. Another military figure was added on the left. Ironically, the original Schwarz photo was censored by the military, which erased his camera’s memory. The photographer eventually retrieved the image from his hard drive.
“It’s the photo that would not die,” Gibney said. “This movie is not a horror film like ‘Hostel.’ This is a documentary and that image is a documentary image.”