On Monday, September 12, the JFK Jr. Forum received the Academy Award-winning director, screenwriter and producer Oliver Stone in a conversation moderated by a man similarly distinguished within his field, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Ron Suskind. Stone, the screenplay writer of works such as Scarface and director of myriad films such as JFK and Natural Born Killers, visited the Forum to discuss his newest feature film, Snowden, a nuanced portrayal of the morally complex story of Edward Snowden’s exposure of extensive espionage practices of the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013.
After sharing the trailer for Snowden, Stone addressed the process of making the film, which included nine trips to Moscow to visit Edward Snowden himself. After blowing the whistle on the NSA to the media, Snowden was charged with treason against the United States under the Espionage Act of 1917 and fled the country to Russia, which has granted him temporary asylum.
Wanting to learn more about Snowden the man, Suskind asked Stone about his impression of Edward Snowden in person. Stone was openly impressed with Snowden, who he said has a true, “Boy Scout-like” devotion to doing what he considers morally right. While the Snowden revelation is mired in controversy, with some Americans considering him a traitor and others a patriot, it was evident that Stone firmly defended Snowden’s actions. In spite of his overall praise for Edward Snowden, Stone conceded that Snowden is not the type of guy he would want to casually hang out with at a bar.
Snowden, who began working for the CIA in 2006 and then as a contractee for the NSA in 2009, bore witness to the extreme extent to which the NSA surveils the world, from foreign leaders to terrorist organizations to the American populace at large. As the audience saw in one of the two clips Stone shared, the NSA observes the online traffic and phone calls of not just those suspicious of terrorism and violence, but also their connections and the connections of those connections. According to the film, this tactic almost necessarily leads the NSA to spy on the banal daily lives of millions of innocent Americans. Given the controversial practices that the NSA employs, the morality of Snowden’s exposing of the NSA is fervently debated.
Stone shared his respect for Snowden for taking the initiative in blowing the whistle on the NSA. He hopes there will be more such whistleblowers in the future, as otherwise there is no one to keep check on the government. Stone hinted at hoping that his film itself might inspire more government employees to come forward with information.
While Stone is open about his support for Snowden, he claimed that he would never consciously distort the truth in order to push a specific agenda on his audience. Instead, he hopes to portray Snowden’s story from his own perspective.
Snowden debuts in theaters everywhere September 16, 2016.