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In His Typically Sedate Fashion, Julian Assange Accuses Benedict Cumberbatch Of Being A "Hired Gun" Used To Assassinate The Truth

By Joanna Robinson | Think Pieces | October 10, 2013 | Comments ()


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It must be hard, especially for men of such power and influence, to sit back and watch as a version of your life gets made into a movie. How impotently frustrating to have no say in the telling of your own story. Sure, you could tell it yourself. Post it on your website. Give interviews. Participate in documentaries. But what weight does that kind of truth have against the overwhelming power of the Hollywood fantasy? Soon, people may forget what Julian Asange actually looks like and replace his image with Cumberbatch’s in their own head. It’s not that people are dumb, it’s just that good storytelling is that powerful.

That’s not true of every biopic, of course. I don’t think Ashton Kutcher’s feather-light impersonation has any chance of scrubbing the real Steve Jobs (or at least, the black turtleneck wearing, new-phone announcing Jobs) from our memory. But what do you really know about Mark Zuckerberg? Is it Jesse Eisenberg sneering in a hoodie and sports sandals you see when you close your eyes?

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I’m not saying Assange and Zuckerberg need me to defend them. They’re brilliant but difficult men who have had immeasurable success and attention in their given fields. Their stories (even hyped up, fictionalized, Hollwood versions) are absolutely worth telling. But I can sympathize a little with Assange’s anger over the upcoming The Fifth Estate movie. This is a man who has dedicated his life to getting the truth out there. (At least that’s what he believes, that’s the mythology he has created for himself and buys into.) And though I’ve not seen the film yet, I can agree with Assange’s fear that Cunmberbatch, an unforgettable, indomitable performer, poses a real threat to Assange’s public image. After all, when most of you think about Sherlock Holmes, hasn’t a voluminous scarf and sweeping black coat replaced the old deerstalker and meerschaum pipe? And the hat and pipe had a century to make an impression on you. To Assange’s credit, he seems to recognize that it’s Cumberbatch’s talent that poses one of the biggest threats.

But, once again, Assange is a difficult, divisive man and playing the victim doesn’t really ring true in the context of his track record. Despite that, I think this letter he wrote Benedict Cumberbatch back in January is worth reading. Presumably, Cumberbatch asked to meet Assange in order to ensure his performance was as accurate and life-based as possible. Or at least incorporated some of the real-life Assange. That’s a pursuit of truth, right? Well as you can see, Assange shot Cumberbatch down. The whole letter is quite long (and there are even supplemental documents available on the Wikileaks site) so I’ve put my favorite bits in bold for you, the TL;DR crowd.

Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2013
From: Julian Assange
To: Benedict Cumberbatch
Subject: Message from Assange

Dear Benedict,

Thank you for trying to contact me. It is the first approach by anyone from the Dreamworks production to me or WikiLeaks. My assistants communicated your request to me, and I have given it a lot of thought and examined your previous work, which I am fond of.

I think I would enjoy meeting you. The bond that develops between an actor and a living subject is significant.

If the film reaches distribution we will forever be correlated in the public imagination. Our paths will be forever entwined. Each of us will be granted standing to comment on the other for many years to come and others will compare our characters and trajectories.

But I must speak directly. I hope that you will take such directness as a mark of respect, and not as an unkindness.

I believe you are a good person, but I do not believe that this film is a good film. I do not believe it is going to be positive for me or the people I care about.I believe that it is going to be overwhelmingly negative for me and the people I care about.

It is based on a deceitful book by someone who has a vendetta against me and my organisation.

In other circumstances this vendetta may have gone away, but our conflict with the United States government and the establishment press has created a patronage and commissioning market - powerful, if unpopular - for works and comments that are harmful to us.

There are dozens of positive books about WikiLeaks, but Dreamworks decided
to base its script only on the most toxic.
So toxic is the first book selected by Dreamworks that it is distributed to US military bases as a mechanism to discourage military personnel from communicating with us. Its author is publicly known to be involved in the Dreamworks production in an ongoing capacity.

Dreamworks’ second rights purchase is the next most toxic, biased book. Published and written by people we have had a bitter contractual dispute with for years, whose hostility is well known. Neither of these two books were the first to be published and there are many independent authors who have written positive or neutral books, all of whom Dreamworks ignored.

Dreamworks has based its entire production on the two most discredited books on the market.I know the film intends to depict me and my work in a negative light.I believe it will distort events and subtract from public understanding.It does not seek to simplify, clarify or distil the truth, but rather it seeks to bury it.It will resurrect and amplify defamatory stories which were long ago shown
to be false.

—-

My organisation and I are the targets of political adversary from the United States government and its closest allies.

The United States government has engaged almost every instrument of its justice and intelligence system to pursue—in its own words—a ‘whole of government’ investigation of ‘unprecedented scale and nature’ into WikiLeaks under draconian espionage laws. Our alleged sources are facing their entire lives in the US prison system. Two are already in it. Another one is detained in Sweden.

Feature films are the most powerful and insidious shapers of public perception, because they fly under the radar of conscious exclusion.

This film is going to bury good people doing good work, at exactly the time that the state is coming down on their heads. It is going to smother the truthful version of events, at a time when the truth is most in demand.

As justification it will claim to be fiction, but it is not fiction. It is distorted truth about living people doing battle with titanic opponents. It is a work of political opportunism, influence, revenge and, above all, cowardice. It seeks to ride on the back of our work, our reputation and our struggles.

It seeks to cut our strength with weakness. To cut affection with exploitation. To cut diligence with paranoia. To cut loyalty with naivety. To cut principle with hypocrisy. And above all, to cut the truth with lies.

The film’s many distortions buttress what the prosecution will argue. Has argued. Is arguing. In my case, and in that of others. These cases will continue for years. The studio that is producing the film is not a vulnerable or weak party. Dreamworks’ free speech rights are not in jeopardy - ours are. Dreamworks is an extremely wealthy organisation, with ties to powerful interests in the US government.

I must therefore question the choices and motives behind it: the opportunism, fears and mundanity; the unwritten rules of film financing and distribution in the United States; the cringe against doing something useful and brave.

I believe that you are a decent person, who would not naturally wish to harm good people in dire situations.

—-

You will be used, as a hired gun, to assume the appearance of the truth in order to assassinate it. To present me as someone morally compromised and to place me in a falsified history. To create a work, not of fiction, but of debased truth. Not because you want to, of course you don’t, but because, in the end, you are a jobbing actor who gets paid to follow the script, no matter how debauched. Your skills play into the hands of people who are out to remove me and WikiLeaks from the world. I believe that you should reconsider your involvement in this enterprise.

Consider the consequences of your cooperation with a project that vilifies and marginalises a living political refugee to the benefit of an entrenched, corrupt and dangerous state. Consider the consequences to people who may fall into harm because of this film.

Many will fight against history being blackwashed in this way. It is a collective history now, involving millions of people, because millions have opened their eyes as a result of our work and the attempts to destroy us.

I believe you are well intentioned but surely you can see why it is a bad idea for me to meet with you.By meeting with you, I would validate this wretched film, and endorse the talented, but debauched, performance that the script will force you to give.I cannot permit this film any claim to authenticity or truthfulness. In its current form it has neither, and doing so would only further aid the campaign against me.It is contrary to my interests, and to those of my organisation, and I thank you for your offer, and what I am sure is your genuine intent, but I must, with inexpressible regret, turn it down.

Julian Assange

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Uriah_Creep

    After all, when most of you think about Sherlock Holmes, hasn’t a voluminous scarf and sweeping black coat replaced the old deerstalker and
    meerschaum pipe?

    No. They most certainly have not.

  • It's a minor quibble in the face of your larger point, but the Lizard King is in no danger of supplanting either Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes in my imagination.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Clearly, he's not up for that role at all.

  • MissGinger

    The only thing that Benedict Cumberbatch is capable of assassinating is my cookie jar. Yes, please, Sir, tingle my biscuits: http://slobbyandredandinpain.t...

  • Jackie Moonshine

    For a man so committed to uncovering the truth, he seems
    curiously disinterested in participating in his own criminal trial. If the evidence is so OBVIOUSLY flimsy, why doesn’t
    he submit himself to inquiry and clear his name? Here’s what he’s really saying: “If I attack
    the character of a woman and insist she’s lying about rape allegations, I am
    not legally compelled to submit myself to criminal proceedings.” Sound legal analysis indeed! Roofie-slinging fratboys can rest easy now
    that we have this new defense….. we’ll call it the “Assange is a rapey sack-of-dicks”
    defense. Or maybe he’s afraid that the draconian,
    puritanical, freedom-hatin’ Swedes won’t give him a fair trial?! Weak tea, if you ask me.

  • Joseph Howe

    Maybe the verdict is already decided and that is why he is seeking asylum?

  • Fabius_Maximus

    He's afraid Sweden will extradite him to the US.

  • Jackie Moonshine

    His argument that Sweden would extradite him to the U.S. is laughable. First, Sweden consistently recieves the highest scores from Freedom House on "Political Freedom" "Freedom of the Press" "Rule of Law" ect. There is no resonable basis to support the idea that Sweden would extradite Assange to face charges that contradict Swedish law. Second, the U.S. has never requested that Sweden (or any state) extradite Assange. If the U.S. intended to request extradition, it would have asked the U.K. to extradite him when he was walking the streets of London freely.

  • That's very nice for Sweden. Did those scores include their role in the lovely extraordinary rendition flights the CIA was so fond of?

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Hey, as I said, I don't know if he's just trying to dodge the charges or is paranoid. He's clearly afraid of something.

  • lowercase_ryan

    He's right.

  • It's quite likely this is a scenario when everybody's, if not right, at least not wrong. Assange's comments about the pernicious and destruction characteristics of art=commerce and how the portrayal will be misused are fair, even if his directing it at Cumberbatch are kinda silly. He should have directed his comments to the public, directly, not this way. Still.

    And Cumberbatch is merely trying to portray a fascinating character in an interesting context. Hard to find fault with him for trying.

    In the end, we have a perfect encapsulation of our world. You might be right, but the world gives zero fucks. You'll be exploited and your craft will be misinterpreted. To quote Captain Reynolds: 'Get in line.'

  • Sara_Tonin00

    He is an eloquent guy, I have to give him that. And his justifications make sense. I thought, at first, it was bad form of Benedict Cumberbatch to release private correspondence, but how naive of me to think that it was he doing the releasing.

    As for the charges against them, I have no idea what to think and I'll let a jury decide. But it's nice to know that Sweden's rape laws are so complete as to cover not using a condom and sex while sleeping.

  • Allijo

    Coincidentally enough, Smaug the Dragon ALSO wrote an open letter to Benedict Cumberbatch.

    http://celluloidheroes.co.uk/s...

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Thaaaat is fantastic.

  • MauraFoley

    I would feel worse for Assange if he hadn't already assassinated his own character by RAPING PEOPLE.

  • Qualtinger

    The U.S. government really knew what they were doing when they came up with this story. It´s exactly the kind of BS that will discredit a guy like Assange the most in the eyes of the liberals and leftists who would be his most ardent supporters. It has worked brilliantly too, seeing as every time there is a story on him, the first and most highly voted comment is a regurgitating of this U.S. gvernment propaganda. You would think it was highly obvious, but alas …

    Otherwise, Assange is as spot on and articulate as always. This is the best and most respectful answer he could have given and I´m sure Cumberbatch has appreciated it as such.

  • stella

    Wait, what?

  • Like Sara_Tonin00 commented elsewhere, it's pretty hard to know what happened regarding those allegations. It's definitely a possibility that he's a rapist who deserves our disdain.

    Still, the details of the case are extremely murky, with the stories of the accusers changing over time. (Original interviews with the alleged victims have them describing the sex as "consensual," only later making claims of rape. Also, the claim about condom use has wavered between "he refused to wear a condom" and "the condom broke.")

    Don't get me wrong. I would never defend a rapist. I just think that when you're talking about someone many governments want to see discredited, you should be a little less cavalier about calling him a rapist as if you caught him in the act.

    Can we at least say "allegedly RAPING PEOPLE?"

  • MauraFoley

    You would never defend a rapist, except right now.

  • Sorry, but that's kind of a dumb thing to say. What I'm defending is his right to not be called a rapist until it's proven that he actually done a rape.

    If he did it, I hope he burns for it. If, however, this case is -- as many have claimed -- just a ploy to get him extradited to the US to face Wikileaks charges, then I think the whole thing is a cheap exploitation of human sensitivity to rape.

    If you have proof that he's a rapist, though, please let us know. We can finally put this case to bed and I'll pick up a torch and join the mob with you.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Was he convicted?

  • Jules

    That would require him to stop hiding in an embassy and answer the charges in person. But Datey McRapey won't.

  • He takes one step out of that embassy and before you can say, 'Julian Assange, you stand accused of...', he'll be hooded and banged up in an American gulag for the rest of his life, never even having a chance to stand trial for these allegations, and on top of that providing one of the worst human rights-abusing governments in the world another victory.

  • Joseph Howe

    If we lived in a world that operated under a system of justice I would agree with you. But, we don't.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    I agree and I don't even like that libertarian dickbag.

    However, like Sparky wrote below, the allegations seem to be somewhat questionable and we should wait for the mess to clear up. He may be a power-hungry rapist, a paranoiac or both. But I don't know and I bet you do neither. So we should leave it at that.

  • You know, I largely agree. But character shouldn't ever come into political cases. As depressingly numerous first-hand accounts have shown, people like Saddam Hussein, Tony Blair, Suharto, old Adolf Hitler (yeah, Godwin's law, who cares, it's relevant), etc etc. were all lovely people in person. And yet we saw what atrocities they wrought on the impersonal stage. Julian Assange's character does nothing to lessen the importance - the massive importance - of his and his organisation's work. They have provided us with a major victory in the information wars that our governments wage against their own citizens.
    As for the shaky allegations against him, I believe he has repeatedly stated that he is willing to undergo questioning while in the embassy. Considering the inevitability that if he leaves it the forces of the most powerful empire in the world will bear down on him mercilessly and whisk him away to a life behind bars and worse, I think it's perfectly reasonable that he stays in there.

  • lowercase_see

    Juuuuuust came here to say that.

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