“Zero Dark Thirty,” Circa 1950

Variety’s Jon Weisman shares a clip from 1950, when the War Department gave its blessing to a story within “The Steel Helmet” that depicted the killing of a POW that would violate the Geneva Convention

“In World War II the Pentagon would have blanched at such an episode in
fictional film form,” the article states. “The War Department made
special efforts to refute Nazi propagandists who claimed U.S. Paratroops
and ‘Hermans’ (airborne infantrymen) killed German prisoners they
captured when they dropped back of the front during the Normandy
Invasion.”
The difference, Weisman notes, is that “The Steel Helmet’ was conceived as fiction, while “Zero Dark Thirty” is based on a true story.
That difference is also what irks Michael Wolff, who suggests that filmmakers are still getting a pass on dramatizations, even when adopting the more marketable label of “based on a true story.” The images in film are more likely to be accepted as history than a book that has a much smaller audience.
Wolff writes in The Guardian, “A non-fiction writer couldn’t do this. If you did this and maintained,
to the extent that the makers of Zero Dark Thirty appear to maintain,
that this was true, and with as little documentary evidence, either no
one would publish you or you would have to invent evidence to get
published. And then, you’d invariably be found out, scandal would ensue
and your name would be blackened.

“Movies, on the other hand,
even when they represent themselves to be non-fiction like Zero Dark
Thirty, are still what we accept as a ‘dramatization’, so therefore not
really real. How that is different from a non-fiction author using
novelizing techniques to bring to life his story – and subsequently
being humiliated by Oprah when he turns out to have significantly
stretched the truth – I don’t know.”

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