PopPolitics: ‘Good Kill’ Casts Doubt on U.S. Use of Drones (Listen)

Also: Dustin Lance Black on the Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Hearings

Andrew Niccol’s “Good Kill,” opening on May 15, tells the story of a Las Vegas-based U.S. military drone pilot (Ethan Hawke) who grapples with the moral questions of increasing escalation of airstrikes via joystick, a new type of warfare that is put under greater control of the CIA.

The movie comes as new doubts are raised about the drone program following the White House’s recent announcement that two Western hostages were accidentally killed in a drone strike in Pakistan. Members of Congress and even the administration have called for the Defense Department to take the lead on the program.

“Good Kill” shows the unprecedented effectiveness and precision of drone strikes, but its focus is on the lives of the pilots, at times called to pull the trigger even when there is certainty that the casualties will include civilians in the unfortunate vicinity of terrorist targets, like a funeral of a Taliban member killed in an earlier strike. That, Niccol says, was based on real incidents.

“I’m only telling the truth, so I am only saying what is, so from that point of view, I am being as even-handed as you can,” Niccol tells Variety‘s “PopPolitics.” “As I say, this is extremely precise. It’s not like we are carpet bombing anymore. We have lowered collateral damage to the lowest [possibility]. The thing is … it depends on the intel. You can hit the house you want to hit, but you have got to make sure it is the right house.”

As CIA buzzwords like “proportionality” are used to justify the killing of presumably innocent civilians near suspected terrorists, one of the pilots (Zoe Kravitz) at one point asks, “Why are we Hamas?” Other pilots are better able to compartmentalize their duties, leaving the ethical questions to their superiors.

Niccol says he hopes that the movie does “start a debate because as I say, these things are done in our name.”

Listen below:

Niccol did not get the cooperation of the military, but he did consult with ex-drone pilots. What he found was that some of the younger pilots would work 12-hour shifts, then go home and play videogames for hours.

“I couldn’t put it in the movie because I thought no one would believe it,” he says.

Listen below:

One of the tools that Niccol used for research was WikiLeaks. “That is the only way you get to see what a drone strike looks like,” he says. “I should probably credit Bradley Manning or Chelsea Manning as my researchers for some of the movie.”

Major studios passed on the film, and Niccol says, “If you are telling an uncomfortable truth, I think that is always going to be difficult.” But the major challenge was not having military cooperation. “So I had to do it from scratch and to get everyone to do it for the love really.”

Listen below:

Dustin Lance Black on the Supreme Court’s Oral Arguments

During the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on Tuesday in the same-sex marriage cases, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that the definition of marriage had “been with us for millennia. And it’s very difficult for the court to say, ‘Oh, well, we know better.'”

Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk,” says Kennedy’s remark “was actually a fair question to say, ‘How did we get here?'”

“What I would like to have heard was a little bit of the LGBT story of the last half century,” he says, adding that “our larger narrative and our personal one … is what has gotten us to this place quickly.”

Listen below:

When he won an Oscar in 2009, Black called for equal rights for gays and lesbians at the federal level. At that time, it was actually a controversial comment as so much of the strategy in the LGBT movement had been winning state-by-state, or fending off ballot initiatives.

Listen below:

When asked whether a yearlong boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel is enough time to send a message to the owner, the Sultan of Brunei, Black says, “Absolutely not. We are truly talking about people being killed for being gay.”

Listen below:

The Wire” and Baltimore

Nikki Schwab of U.S. News and Cynthia Littleton of Variety talk about the unrest in Baltimore and the commentary on the riots from “The Wire” creator David Simon.

“PopPolitics,” hosted by Ted Johnson, airs Thursdays at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS.

More Biz

  • Harvey WeinsteinHarvey Weinstein court hearing, New

    Weinstein Trial: Everything We Know About the Three Supporting Witnesses

    The prosecution laid out its rape case against Harvey Weinstein on Wednesday morning, spelling out the allegations in detail for the first time. In her opening argument, Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast also described the testimony of three “prior bad acts” witnesses. Such testimony was critical in the prosecution of comedian Bill Cosby, and it [...]

  • Donna Rotunno, Harvey WeinsteinHarvey Weinstein court

    Harvey Weinstein's Defense Focuses on Emails in Bid to Discredit Accusers

    Harvey Weinstein’s defense attorney showed jurors friendly emails between their client and his accusers in an opening statement on Wednesday, arguing that the accusers are trying to “have it both ways.” Attorney Damon Cheronis asked the jury to rely on their “God-given New York City common sense,” and to find that the women had consensual [...]

  • Mark Cuban Andrew Wallenstein Variety CES

    Listen: Mark Cuban Is Bullish on AI, 5G, TikTok and ... Movie Theaters!?

    As a serial entrepreneur with a taste for tech, Mark Cuban has built a multibillion-dollar career by trusting his well-developed instincts. So when he says it’s time to pay attention to any particular innovation, it’s best to listen up. On the latest episode of the “Strictly Business” podcast, recorded at CES earlier this month in [...]

  • Harvey WeinsteinHarvey Weinstein court hearing, New

    Harvey Weinstein Was a 'Predator and a Rapist,' D.A. Tells Jurors

    A prosecutor told jurors on Wednesday that Harvey Weinstein wielded his immense power in Hollywood to rape vulnerable young women and then to keep them silent. Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast gave jurors a vivid recounting of multiple sexual assaults, including the story of Jessica Mann, a witness who has not previously been identified. She [...]

  • Ryan Tracey

    CAA Hires TV Agent Ryan Tracey (EXCLUSIVE)

    Creative Artists Agency (CAA) has hired Ryan Tracey as an agent in the television department, Variety has learned exclusively. Tracey comes to CAA from UTA, where he had most recently served as head of TV Production. He has represented an numerous television producers during his career, including Aida Rodgers, Kathy Ciric, Anna Dokoza, Ellen Kuras, Mark Winemaker, [...]

  • Neil Portnow Grammys

    Ex-Grammy Chief Neil Portnow Responds to Rape Allegations

    The most explosive of many allegations in ousted Recording Academy Deborah Dugan’s complaint against the organization Tuesday was a claim that her predecessor, Neil Portnow, had been accused of raping a “foreign” singer who was a member of the Academy, and that Academy executives were aware of it at the time of Dugan’s hiring. On [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content