Celebs for Snowden! M.I.A., Slavoj Žižek, and Others Declare Their Support

Hollywood sees CitizenFour, issues statement in support of its protagonist.

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Nov 10 2014, 5:12pm

Image: CitizenFour

In response to Laura Poitras's Edward Snowden documentary, CitizenFour, an international assortment of more than 60 musicians, actors, Nobel laureates, and other thought leaders have formed a coalition in support of whistleblowing and hacktivism.

The final chapter in Poitras's trilogy of post-9/11 films, CitizenFour is the stranger-than-fiction narrative of her and other journalists' first encounters with the NSA whistleblower. Chronicling investigative journalism's biggest scoop since Watergate as it unfolds before Poitras's lens, the real-life adventure has so far only reached a few major cities, but it's struck a nerve.

Now that it's poised for a wider theatrical release, the group of celebrities is not just imploring the public to go see the film, but raising their voices in support of its cause.

"The more that the public watches CitizenFour, which documents Edward Snowden's bravery in revealing the NSA's massive web of surveillance of the American people, opposition to the government's assault on civil liberties will grow," British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood said in a release announcing the support campaign.

Dozens of well-known figures, including philosopher Noam Chomsky, actors Susan Sarandon and Viggo Mortensen, and musicians M.I.A., Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine), cultural critic Slavoj Žižek,and Moby, have added their signatures to the following statement:

We stand in support of those fearless whistleblowers and publishers who risk their lives and careers to stand up for truth and justice. Thanks to the courage of sources like Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning, Jeremy Hammond, and Edward Snowden, the public can finally see for themselves the war crimes, corruption, mass surveillance, and abuses of power of the US government and other governments around the world. WikiLeaks is essential for its fearless dedication in defending these sources and publishing their truths. These bold and courageous acts spark accountability, can transform governments, and ultimately make the world a better place.

The message is a formal declaration of support for the Courage Foundation, headed by WikiLeaks Investigations Editor Sarah Harrison, which supports whistleblower protection globally. Last June, Harrison aided Snowden in his quiet escape from Hong Kong and into asylum in Russia. 

The foundation hosts the official legal defense funds of both Edward Snowden and Jeremy Hammond, who is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for his hack of Austin-based intelligence firm Stratfor

"We cannot thank these cultural icons enough for showing their support," said Harrison. "The courage that Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers and truth tellers have shown and continue to show is truly extraordinary and necessary in helping the public have access to their historical record through media."

While the former Booz Allen-Hamilton contractor has Skyped into conferences around the world to cite necessities for the internet's future to hackers and even sat down in-person with Brian Williams and NBC in a crudely bifurcating interview, CitizenFour finally peels back the curtain-puller's curtain, and lets the viewer get truly intimate with Snowden for the first time.

Poitras's film shows that this was in fact a concern of Snowden's from day one. Talking with Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill days before his identity was brought public, Snowden emphasized that his ego, his character, his politics, etc., weren't the story, and could potentially endanger the greater impact of the leaked cache of documents.

But Poitras's closer peek into Snowden's soul may be the sentimental treatment the whistleblower movement needs. The film's up-close, personal examination of Snowden—done in pursuit of revealing intrusions into citizen privacy—is in itself, a production of celebrity and spectacle. Who better to empathize with him now than celebrities? 

After more than a year, an anticipating audience has finally met its hero.

"Rather than being celebrated as the truth-tellers and champions of accountability that they [whistleblowers] are," said Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, "[T]hey are persecuted and find themselves the target of a draconian legal system that punishes them for the act of exposing crimes."

"As Albert Camus once put it, governments, by definition, do not have consciences; they have policies and nothing more. Therefore, it is up to all of us as free-thinking citizens to demand truly transparent democracy and high, unbiased moral standards from those who govern us," Viggo Mortensen added. "I hope everyone can chip in to support Snowden and those patriotic whistleblowers that come after him."

Could such mainstream appeal, and the fact that the film is a conceivable Oscar winner, bolster a broadening support network for whistleblowers in a way Pulitzer-winning journalism has not? To the celebrity coalition, it looks well worth the shot.