Vice Blog

Is It Fucked Up That the Guy Who Wrote 'Robocop' Is Making a Movie About the Boston Bombing?

Can Hollywood cash in on national tragedies without making it more painful for victims?

by Allie Conti
Mar 25 2015, 8:30pm

Via Flickr user Rebecca Hildreth

The trial for admitted Boston Bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev is underway right now, and a courtroom full of reporters are furiously scribbling notes and tapping away on iPads. Meanwhile, sketch artists are rendering images of the now-21-year-old defendant looking unconcerned, or like a teenager who just woke up and got high. That's because, for the most part, cameras haven't been allowed in federal court rooms since 1946. Although many judges say they'd have no problem with the transparency, others, like Supreme Court Justice David Souter, have famously quipped that they would be allowed "over [his] dead body." The justice said that cameras would affect his behavior in the courtroom and warned that the judiciary isn't "part of the entertainment industry."

And while you could probably make a compelling argument that Americans should be able to see one of their three branches of government at work, it's also a good thing that we keep certain things off of Court TV. For instance, right now we're preventing the Boston Bombing trial from becoming more of a media circus than it already is. Rather than make Tsarnaev the focus of a new reality show, reporters have to work with the facts of the case as laid out by attorneys and witnesses. And because the coverage isn't just close-ups of his reactions, it is more respectful of the victims' friends and families.

What's more, considering the case isn't about guilt or innocence at this point—its sole purpose is deciding whether or not the bomber should live or die—showing it on TV would basically be a tame version of The Running Man.

All of which begs the question: Why is Hollywood commissioning an on-screen adaptation of the Boston tragedy by a writer whose career highlight so far was remaking Robocop?

The book Boston Strong, two journalists' account of the attack's aftermath, was published this past January. Even before it hit the shelves, 20th Century Fox scooped up the film rights, and on Tuesday, the Hollywood Reporter broke the story that Robocop (remake) writer Joshua Zetumer would be penning the script.

Just because the bombing has been described as "like a horror movie" doesn't mean film execs should spring at the chance to turn it into one. And the fact that Boston Strong is being written by someone with no experience crafting complex dramas is troubling. Then again, when the director of the Bourne trilogy, Paul Greengrass, made a film about United Airlines Flight 93, it was lauded as one of the best films of the year and nominated for two Academy Awards. So there's hope this won't be a total disaster.

But Greengrass's film was made with the permission of the victims's families, and people have proven very touchy about giving Tsarnaev any sort of individual attention. Back in July 2013, when Rolling Stone put Tsarnaev on its cover, people accused the magazine of making him look more like Jim Morrison than a terrorist. But the piece of reporting it accompanied did much more to humanize rather than glamorize him. That he looked sweet—and could still fill a pressure cooker with shrapnel with the sole purpose of killing people—was entirely the point. The fact that homegrown, lone-wolf terrorists look like any other college kid is terrifying. And as Matt Taibbi rightfully pointed out in response to theRolling Stone uproar, understanding terrorists is the key to stopping them. The people who flipped out about the cover didn't understand that depicting someone isn't the same thing as endorsing them.

Of course Hollywood is cashing in on the Boston Bombing attack by making this movie. Production companies aren't charities. But if United 93 proved it's possible to make a film about a terrorist attack without being gauche, and Rolling Stone showed that writing about what makes terrorists tick can be a worthy pursuit, maybe that doesn't matter. Then again, if the spectacle of the early days of the trial has been sufficient to rip open the hearts of Bostonians, one can only imagine how they'll react to a full-length movie.

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