Assange Biopic Ignores Sexual-Assault Allegations

Filmmakers have given us a redacted history of Julian Assange—exactly the kind that WikiLeaks set out to dismantle

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The Fifth Estate, about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s rapid rise to prominence, does not portray its subject as either hero or villain. As played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Assange is socially maladjusted, but not in ways that endear him to fellow hackers; he’s vainglorious but not particularly charismatic, less budding cult leader than disgruntled cult member. And what he is definitely not is wanted for questioning on sexual-assault allegations in Sweden.

(MORE: Benedict Cumberbatch Talks Secrets, Leaks and Sherlock)

Since late 2010, the formerly globetrotting Assange has been stuck in the U.K. fighting an arrest and extradition warrant to Sweden to answer allegations of sexual assault against two former WikiLeaks supporters, both of whom have provided depositions. Assange denies any wrongdoing and claims that the Swedish warrant is a conspiratorial gambit to extradite him to the U.S. This warrant is why Assange has been holed up for the past year and a half in London in the Ecuadorean embassy, where he has political asylum. It’s what has transformed a plausibly dashing international man of mystery into the waxen satellite link he is today.

But you would never know this from The Fifth Estate, which tacks a few lines about the rape allegations at the very end, which is sort of like watching Behind the Candelabra only to find out in a postscript that Liberace had been playing concerts and romancing Scott Thorson under house arrest in Las Vegas most of the time.

Why does an otherwise thorough and decently researched film leave out such a huge piece in the Assange puzzle? Every biopic — even one whose events are as compressed in time as The Fifth Estate’s — has to streamline, elide, leave stuff out. Assange became a worldwide icon because of WikiLeaks’ release of U.S. military war logs in Afghanistan and Iraq, thousands of State Department cables, and the Collateral Murder video, with its shocking footage of a U.S. air strike in Baghdad that killed several Iraqi civilians and two Reuters correspondents. The sexual-assault case — and to be sure, Assange has not yet been charged with a crime, much less convicted of one — complicated our understanding of him. But it wasn’t why we were looking in the first place.

(MORE: Assange Writes Letter to Cumberbatch, Calls Fifth Estate ‘Toxic’)

Still, like so many biopics, The Fifth Estate is eager to map a facile psychology onto Assange’s actions, tracing his free-press zealotry and persecution complex back to the shame and pain of a traumatic childhood. It even forces a character to say, “Only a man so obsessed with his own secrets could come up with a way to reveal everyone else’s.” Accusations of sexual assault — and the grim portrait of Assange’s sexual modus operandi as it emerges in those stomach-turning depositions — would appear to be relevant to the character’s psychological profile (and certainly his ability to run WikiLeaks). Yet despite its taste for Freudian irony, the movie asexualizes Assange. A few times we see women batting their eyelashes at him, but he never reciprocates; he’s forever sprinting to the airport or back to work. The movie even engineers a fake-out sex scene, in which Assange begins breathlessly tearing off a woman’s clothes — not for the usual reasons, it turns out, but rather to fashion a disguise for himself.

Precisely because The Fifth Estate is not a hagiography — its takeaway is of a difficult, deeply flawed and damaged person who did good things and may continue to — it’s bizarre that the movie scrubs out the legal case that’s cast a shadow over him nearly as long as the world has known his name. In October 2010, Assange fled an interview with CNN’s Atika Shubert because she wanted to ask a perfectly reasonable question about how the sexual-assault allegations were affecting the work of WikiLeaks. “I will have to walk,” he said moments before removing his mike, “if you’re going to contaminate this extremely serious interview with questions about my personal life.” The Fifth Estate obliges Assange on this point, but the result is a film that’s not merely clean but sterile, sanitized, redacted — exactly the kind of history-making that WikiLeaks set out to dismantle.

8 comments
Arbed
Arbed

More on this evidence from the forensics report on these Swedish allegations:

The condom-fragment lady mentions absolutely nothing about any incident about the deliberate ripping of condoms in her formal deposition to the police, or to any of her friends according to *their* depositions. You will see, however, that a policeman has recorded in his notes on the forensic file that at some point this lady told police of hearing "sounds like someone pulling on a balloon" but that she didn't see "in the dark". But it gives no further information about exactly WHEN she has made these remarks to the police. They are certainly nowhere in her formal statement, which is very curious indeed. How can she have failed to mention such a singularly peculiar action on the part of the person she accuses, and the one thing that apparently convinced the other woman (the one who handed in the "torn" "used" condom she says Assange deliberately ripped which has no sign of DNA on it) to come along to the police station to 'support' her? The fragment, the policeman's notes of the lady's story says, was found under the bed, but there's no clue as to who found it or and no custody-chain given as to when or how this fragment came into police hands. (If they'd collected it themselves, surely they'd record time and place?) However, this lady's formal statement talks only about an incident at 9am when she wasn't quite awake when sex was initiated by Assange without a condom (15 minutes approximately after their last session WITH a condom, according to the timeline given in her official account). 

A very - shall we say - *confused* story, I think you'll agree.

Arbed
Arbed

PS. The Swedish police forensics file, for anyone who doubts what I'm saying.

Assange in Sweden: The Lab Results:
http://assangeinswedenbook.com/2013/07/01/the-lab-results/

(Note: The *other* condom from the other lady, which does have a man's DNA on it and the complainant's, is only a 'fragment' "torn" in exactly the same way as the no-DNA "used" condom. Note also: Both women went to the police station and made their complaints together.)

And then draw your own conclusions...



Arbed
Arbed

I suspect The Fifth Estate didn't cover the Swedish allegations because they knew they'd end up in the same deep s**t that Alex Gibney did in his 'documentary' (note scare quotes there) We Steal Secrets. The director held a personal animosity towards Assange because the latter would not grant him an interview, so Gibney actually told lots of lies in his film. Example: There really is no excuse for a documentary maker to interview a woman making allegations of sexual assault, juxtapose that interview with a photograph from the police forensic evidence file of the torn, "used" condom she handed to police, and then NOT tell his viewers that the forensic lab ALSO found that the condom in question didn't have any DNA on it - not even hers. Clearly, she's handed in fake evidence and, clearly, that must have been obvious to Alex Gibney when he read the police forensics file during his research. Reputable filmmakers don't do that, and Alex Gibney's willingness to knowingly use false evidence in this film can only lead to the question "What else isn't true in this movie?" and "What else isn't true about these allegations?"

Get the real facts here: http://wikileaks.org/IMG/html/gibney-transcript.html

hanson.ianj
hanson.ianj

These sexual assault charges came way after the fact, are likely bogus, and are probably orchestrated by the US gov't to try to get him extradited.  I would not call that "history" - I would call it an attempt at defamation.    Piece of crap article; am I the only one tired of Time magazine trying to grab attention with catchy headlines and bad journalism?

Apostate
Apostate

If even half of those details are true it paints an ugly, selfish portrait of Assange. Again, if there is any truth in them.

However, the laws on this issue in Sweden are laughable and irrational and thoroughly subjective - to say nothing of the women in the case themselves.

But, then, the laws and customs governing sex in all societies are quite mad, so . . . everyone ought to watch their back, especially those who reveal to the world the deeply held secrets of the great powers.

marthamitchellgroup
marthamitchellgroup

The film 'The Fifth Estate' cannot depict the events in Stockholm because: 1. there is an ongoing investigation. 2. the events are incredibly complex and are about as far from 'normal' as imaginable - they are an entire film in and of themselves.


Did you deliberately not link to those "stomach-turning depositions", because they clearly, unequivocally paint a picture of an innocent man?

By the way, the accusers are not "two former WikiLeaks supporters", one is a globetrotting SDP politician, the other was (according to the testimony of the many, including the other accuser) only interested in sex and knew next to nothing about WikiLeaks. 

If you had posted those "stomach-turning depositions" and compared them to the arrest warrant you keep mentioning - you might notice (and point out to your readers) - that they don't match. 

After observing this basic fact the "a few lines about the rape allegations" becomes framed rather differently? Next you might look at the astonishing forensic evidence, which again would cause you to frame events rather differently. 

Is it.. Journalism that is required? To understand and further what you have now discovered, to convey these truths to your readers? 

If so, suddenly, you're writing a different article from the one above or making an entirely different film and neither could be adequately contained in a few paragraphs or scenes. Furthermore, neither would ever be posted by Time or greenlit by Dreamworks.

vetramon
vetramon

Miss Jessica winter, talking about one sided opinion. Yours. You see, miss, only two point about what you write: 1st- You write at the beginning of your opinion about the RAPE ALLEGATIONS, but then you continue afterwards with the supposed charges of sexual assault. Are they the same? Or you are just trying to lead the reader to something that is legally accountable and socially repulsive? 2nd- Why don't you deepen, as a unbiased journalist,  the fact that the 2 females involved went to the police after a long time after the fact- the supposed, according to you, rape or sexual assault, and suspiciously they went only after Assange was in another country and had shown the scandal of the American government through, the famous Wiki leaks?  Does this move from the 2 females is not worthy of attention? Why they did it after a time of the RAPE AND NOT AFTER THE RAPE?  IF YOU ARE A YOUNG AND CURIOUS, AS IT SHOULD BE, JOURNALIST DOESN'T IT MERIT AN INVESTIGATION instead of trying to crucify a person that is doing what any decent human being had done?

vetramon
vetramon

@Arbed I read with great interest your information. The final point of all this is not the supposed accusations of the ladies, but why?  This accusation could have had a formal course in other person implicated, but in this case there is a deeper and darker motive. The USA WANTS ASSANGE and the darker hands of the inner works of these two countries are trying to get Assange through any means possible. There is no other explanation for the sorry use of these two ignorant women.