Some have called Edward Snowden a whistle-blower, a dissident, and a traitor. Others have characterized him as a patriot and a hero.
Now the former CIA and NSA employee, who intentionally disclosed to the press classified details of several top-secret United States and British government mass surveillance programs, is being whispered about in the entertainment industry offices of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.
Snowden engaged in the leaking of information to the U.K. Guardian, which resulted in the publication of a series of exposés that revealed details concerning the interception of U.S. and European telephone metadata and several Internet surveillance programs.
ABC News called the disclosure "one of the greatest national security leaks in recent American history."
Federal prosecutors charged Snowden with espionage and theft of government property and as a result the former spy agency operative became a fugitive. He first fled to Hong Kong and then on to Moscow, where he was granted political asylum by the Russian government and now resides at an undisclosed location.
Snowden’s saga is a narrative that Hollywood simply could not resist, and entertainment companies have been circling what The New York Times calls “one of the most difficult nonfiction projects it [Hollywood] has ever tried.”
The story will be set forth in Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald’s upcoming book that is set to be published in March 2014.
Why would a feature film based on Greenwald’s book about Snowden be viewed as a difficult project?
Well, it is not just because of the controversy that continues to follow the internationally known figure; the movie business essentially lives for the attention and attendant publicity that controversy affords. And it is not merely the legal obstacles that the project potentially entails; entertainment industry professionals routinely work out contractual issues.
The real rub is the entertainment community’s long-term relationship with President Obama. The Snowden account is a sore spot for the Obama administration, which actively sought Snowden’s prosecution, capture, and trial, but has so far failed.
The Hollywood community itself is actually divided on how to react to Snowden’s domestic spying revelations. Some industry notables have gone public with strong and explicit statements.
While in Tokyo promoting a Showtime documentary, Oliver Stone used some harsh rhetoric to express his extreme displeasure with the president over the Snowden revelations.
“Obama is a snake,” Stone told the press. “He’s a snake. And we have to turn on him.”
The director additionally complimented the Russian government for granting asylum to Snowden, stating, “I think [Russian President Vladimir] Putin did the right thing, and I'm proud of him for doing it.”
As a member of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, John Cusack spoke out about the surveillance programs during a conference call.
“And now these revelations of spying on every citizen and perhaps every human being on the planet, the end of constitutional rights and American privacy,” the actor said.
Michael Moore uncharacteristically slammed the president over the NSA surveillance. The controversial filmmaker used his Twitter account to post a series of tweets on the subject, including the following post: “HERO OF THE YEAR: #EdwardSnowden NSA tech assistant reveals he is the source of stories on U.S. Gov't domestic spying.”
Reportedly, 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, and HBO were initially among the interested entertainment concerns that were chasing the Snowden project, but 20th Century Fox subsequently pulled back, perhaps because of unresolved life-story rights. Filmmakers typically acquire the rights to a person’s life story, i.e., the rights to portray someone in film or television with safeguards from lawsuits based on defamation, privacy, and publicity rights.
Greenwald can bargain to transfer the rights to his book and his personal life-story rights. However, Snowden has not offered up his own life-story rights. Despite this, filmmakers do sometimes go forward without obtaining life-story rights by using the legal concept of fair use. However, lawsuits may still ensue and interfere with production.
As for Snowden himself, mere days ago the former government systems analyst surfaced in video footage posted on the WikiLeaks website. In the videos, Snowden characterized the domestic spying program as “dragnet mass surveillance that puts entire populations under sort of an eye that sees everything even when it's not needed” and argued that the domestic spying impacts more than just privacy.
“They [the surveillance programs] hurt our economy. They hurt our country. They limit our ability to speak and think and live and be creative, to have relationships and to associate freely,” Snowden said.
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Visit Newsmax.TV Hollywood. Read more reports from James Hirsen — Click Here Now.
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