Written by David Zimmermann
The trend: Since its inception in 1947, the CIA has worked with Hollywood to shape its public image. It offers filmmakers and showrunners insight and aid in exchange for influence over how the agency is portrayed in productions.
First: During World War II, when America was allied with the USSR, the government worked with Hollywood to create pro-Soviet films, sometimes directly ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Movies of that era had communist undertones, following the wave of communist sentiment in America in the 1930s.
Then: The CIA first involved itself in the entertainment industry during the Cold War, funding movies such as the 1954 animated feature Animal Farm. The goal was to produce anti-communist propaganda to counter propaganda from the decades prior. But the agency didn’t leave Hollywood alone after the Cold War was over.
Now: In 1996, the CIA hired an entertainment industry liaison to support films and television that featured the agency in a positive light. If portrayals were negative, scripts would be rewritten or canned. Those who abided by the guidelines could visit and communicate with the CIA for their films.
- Example: The CIA gave Zero Dark Thirty filmmakers access to its Langley headquarters. Influenced by the CIA, the film depicted torture as the key to locating and killing Osama bin Laden. In reality, that narrative contradicted intel that concluded interrogators weren’t able to gain any useful information through torture. Ultimately, the movie made the case for the United States’s war on terror.
Why it matters: The government has helped produce cinematic propaganda for decades, aiming to gain the public’s support for its foreign and domestic operations. The government-entertainment complex has informed countless films and television shows, likely impacting public sentiment and voting outcomes.
- Not just the CIA: The Pentagon continues to have a deep influence in Hollywood, offering military equipment to filmmakers in exchange for favorable treatment.