The man who exposed the National Security Agency’s top-secret surveillance programs has mysteriously disappeared from the Hong Kong hotel room where he had recently taken refuge, and a massive world-wide manhunt is now underway. We’re not talking about the American law enforcement officials who hope to arrest him on various espionage charges, although they’re probably on the job as well, but rather about the army of Hollywood agents eager to secure the rights to his story.
The saga of Edward Snowden would make for an interesting movie, and we’d happily pay the price of admission if only for the suspense of finding out if he is portrayed as a hero or a villain.
A 29-year-old former technical assistant for the Central Intelligence Agency, Snowden was working as a private contractor for the NSA when he reportedly concluded that its extensive snooping into public phone and internet records represented a threat to the basic liberties and privacy rights of the American people, leading him to leak the most salacious details of the program to Great Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Youthful, with a CIA background, high-minded ideals, and a connection to one of the world’s most impeccably leftist rags, Snowden has all the makings of a Hollywood hero. Pictures indicate that he has a rather nerdish appearance, but if the luscious Scarlett Johansson can be cast as Hillary Clinton in a hagiographic bio-pic there’s no reason that Snowden can’t be portrayed by some suitably handsome matinee idol. In most circumstances, Snowden would be the biggest action adventure hero since Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers back in the bad old days of Nixon.
Snowden leaked his top secrets during the golden age of Obama, however, which introduces a moral ambiguity that the modern cinema is not comfortable with. As much as Hollywood loves the ol’ speaking-truth-to-power shtick, it always has another sort of power in mind. It took the election of Obama for Hollywood to eagerly embrace the war on terror, and the newfound hawkishness has provided better much better box office action than the string of self-righteously dour anti-war movies that kept showing up at the theaters during the Bush years, so a return to the old-fashioned anti-government themes might prove a tough pitch. We also suspect that any Hollywood types hoping to snag an invitation to the next White House Correspondents’ Association dinner will likely be hesitant to lionize any whistle-blowers who blew their whistles at the movie industry’s favorite president.
The press, which is eagerly spreading all of the secrets Snowden exposed even as they tsk-tsk about the security breach, seems just as uncertain about the main character in the latest big story. How he is treated by the media as his story plays out will be worth watching, especially if you’ve invested in the movie.
— Bud Norman