ISLAMABAD – Pakistan stars in “Zero Dark Thirty,” from early scenes at a detention site to the dramatic closing minutes as Navy SEALs assault the hideout of Osama bin Laden.
But the Academy Award-nominated film about the hunt for the al-Qaida leader has sparked a controversy here about its portrayal of the country, and it likely will not be shown in theaters here anytime soon.
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The film partly taps into national discomfort that bin Laden was found to be living for years near Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, and anger over the U.S. decision to raid his compound without giving advance notice. Doubts about whether bin Laden really was hiding out for years in the country also are common across Pakistan, where conspiracy theories often carry more weight than fact.
But Pakistanis who have seen the film on DVD or Internet downloads also make much of what they say are factual errors.
In some scenes characters speak Arabic, whereas Pakistanis speak Urdu, Pashto or any of the tens of other languages found here, said Nadeem F. Paracha, a columnist for the English language newspaper Dawn and a cultural critic in Pakistan.
In other scenes, protesters get up to the U.S. Embassy gates; in reality the mission is in an enclosed diplomatic enclave that demonstrators can’t enter. Some scenes that were supposed to show the frontier city of Peshawar looked more like 19th-century Delhi, India.
“How can you make a Hollywood blockbuster, put in so much money and get simple things wrong?” Paracha asked. “Instead of the film being taken seriously, it became a joke among Pakistanis.”
The movie traces the arc of the CIA’s decade-long hunt for bin Laden through the eyes of a young female intelligence analyst, who ostensibly spends most of her time in Pakistan. Screenwriter Mark Boal visited Pakistan to do research, but the movie scenes were not shot here.
One scene that also raises questions shows a vaccination worker going to the compound door as part of the U.S. plan to get DNA samples from the bin Laden family. The United States did run a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign, but the movie portrays it as a drive against polio. That could add suspicion to polio workers already facing attacks by militants in the tribal agencies.
Pakistan only has a few movie theaters that show English-language films, and none has screened “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Cinema films must be approved by a panel of censors, and no distributor has applied for permission to show the film, said Dr. Raja Mustafa Hyder, the board’s head.
Whether it actually would make it past the censors is another question, considering that a representative of the powerful Pakistani military sits on the board.
After the news came out that bin Laden had been living in Abbottabad and that the military had failed to detect the U.S. raiding party, the once-revered Pakistan army found itself on the defensive.
The film also highlights the cooperation between the C.I.A. and Pakistan’s intelligence agency during the early years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, a potentially embarrassing topic in a country with such vehement anti-American sentiment.
Jamshed Zafar, one of the leading importers and distributors of foreign films in Pakistan, said he decided after discussions with friends that it wasn’t worth importing “Zero Dark Thirty.”
“If you get into such controversy, you not only lose money but your reputation is also at stake,” he said.
Any distributor or movie house that showed the movie might also be courting trouble with the public. Islamic hardliners burned some theaters in 2012 during protests against an anti-Islam film.
The fact that neigh- boring India – Pakistan’s archenemy – substituted for many of the Pakistani street scenes also has raised concerns, said Rashid Khawaja, a Lahore, Pakistan-based film producer and distributor.
Even in the city where people could hear the Navy SEALs as they swooped in on helicopters and flew away with bin Laden’s body, there’s still disbelief he was living so close.
College student Raheel Ahmed said he watched “Zero Dark Thirty” and came away thinking the movie’s intent was to praise President Barack Obama.
“I don’t know whether Osama was here,” he said, “but Americans have defamed us by producing the movie.”