When The Fifth Estate, Bill Condon’s movie about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, virtually every member of the cast and crew who walked the red carpet was playfully asked whether they suspected Assange himself had somehow hacked into the screening and was watching the film from a secure location. Assange, who’d already publicly denounced the project, remained mostly silent as it debuted in Toronto. Well, not anymore. In a tweet sent yesterday, WikiLeaks said, “As WikiLeaks was never consulted about the upcoming Hollywood film on us, we’ve given our advice for free: It’s bad.”
Linked to the tweet, WikiLeaks posted what it calls a “mature version” of Josh Singer’s's Fifth Estate screenplay, along with an extensive memo that calls the movie “irresponsible, counterproductive and harmful.” While the movie depicts Assange righteously exposing American secrets, including the names of government informants around the globe, WikiLeaks denies that anyone was harmed and refers to the U.S. government’s own case against Assange as evidence. According to WikiLeaks, the film “is a work of fiction masquerading as fact” that was based on two outdated books written by people with personal or legal grudges against WikiLeaks. “These authors had an interest in portraying Julian Assange as dishonest or manipulative for competitive, personal and legal reasons,” WikiLeaks said in its memo. “It is hard to imagine how a film which aims to dramatise only their version of events could genuinely aspire to being fair or accurate.”
Assange also pushed back against the movie’s depiction of him personally, pointing to quotes from Benedict Cumberbatch that Condon seemed intent to paint him as a “cartoon baddie.” According to the WikiLeaks memo, even such details as Assange’s hair and upbringing were falsely sensationalized to make him more sinister. “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.”
WikiLeaks was obviously not consulted for the making of The Fifth Estate, but Assange claims that his organization did attempt to contact the filmmakers to rebut the epilogue text that appears just before the closing credits. “WikiLeaks submitted via Jeff Skoll of Participant Media suggested corrections. These corrections were ignored and the closing text of the finished film retains the falsehoods.”
Disney, which is distributing The Fifth Estate when it opens on Oct. 18, did not immediately respond to WikiLeaks’ memo.