Fighting what it calls an inaccurate portrayal of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, and the leaking of diplomatic cables in 2010, WikiLeaks has done what it does best: leak a full script and a scathing takedown of upcoming film The Fifth Estate. The film, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and based on two books that WikiLeaks has declared inaccurate and libelous, covers the rise of WikiLeaks, "Cablegate," and its aftermath, told from the perspective of estranged WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg. But WikiLeaks has called it irresponsible, biased, and misleading, pointing out both factual inaccuracies and rhetorical strategies that it says could sway public opinion in the wrong direction.
Assange claimed to have read a leaked version of the script back in January, though it was allegedly an early draft. This script can't be verified, but Forbes says it's corroborated by people who attended early screenings. "The most recent script released to the public is a mature version, obtained at a late stage during the principal photography of 2013," says WikiLeaks, adding that there were few changes from the earlier version. "Most of the events depicted never happened, or the people shown were not involved in them. It has real names, real places, and looks like it is covering real events, but it is still a dramatic and cinematic work, and it invents or shapes the facts to fit its narrative goals."
Particularly, WikiLeaks took issue with the film's suggestion that the Cablegate leaks put the lives of government informants at risk, saying that it focused on illusory harm while ignoring the real good that came out of the releases. "The Fifth Estate is careful to avoid most criticism of US foreign policy actually revealed by WikiLeaks," it says. "The film covers 2010, but almost none of the evidence WikiLeaks published that year of serious abuses within the US military and the State Department."
"The Fifth Estate is careful to avoid most criticism of US foreign policy actually revealed by WikiLeaks."
It also takes issue with the characters, from Domscheit-Berg to Cumberbatch's Julian Assange. Despite being portrayed as a central character, the real "Daniel" was only loosely involved with WikiLeaks, it says, and he had no involvement in major releases like the "Collateral Murder" video of 2010, depicted in the film. Assange particularly appears as a manipulative and irresponsible extremist; though Cumberbatch says the character grew more nuanced in rewrites, he worried that Assange initially appeared as a "cartoon baddie." While Assange's mother allegedly spent time fleeing from a boyfriend who may have belonged to a cult, the film suggests that Assange himself was also in the cult, and that he dyes his hair white in keeping with its tradition. "Julian Assange does not dye or bleach his hair white," says the memo.
Some of these facts are fairly innocuous, made in the name of a better narrative. But WikiLeaks says that they add up to a demonization of Assange, falsely portraying him as "sinister and duplicitous." WikiLeaks also takes issue with the mention of sexual assault accusations leveled against Assange, insisting that he has never been charged — though the film does not use the word "charged" and factually reports that an arrest warrant was issued for one count of rape and two counts of molestation, it does not mention that the rape accusation specifically was withdrawn soon after.
The Fifth Estate was made without WikiLeaks' involvement, and it's not surprising to see events turned into a heroes-and-villains narrative. WikiLeaks, however, says the film doesn't occur in a vacuum and could mask the real benefits of leaks and the need to support whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, currently seeking a presidential pardon. "The film is, from WikiLeaks' perspective, irresponsible, counterproductive, and harmful," it writes. This is the second time the organization has slammed a film about it: it previously leaked and criticized a transcript of documentary We Steal Secrets.