Is Julian Assange a free speech martyr or a narcissist with a thirst for chaos? Few figures in the 21st century have inspired more fury or worship in equal measure. Through his WikiLeaks platform, he's unapologetically unleashed volumes of private government and corporate data under the banner of public interest. He's a self-proclaimed crusader, an uncontrollable megalomaniac, a modern day cyber celebrity, and a figure who stands firmly in the crosshairs of those in power. ABC News Australia attempts to unravel his complicated legacy in the absorbing documentary Hero or Villain: The Prosecution of Julian Assange.
The film lands in the midst of a new chapter in the Assange saga as he faces a slew of fresh charges under the Espionage Act and fights extradition to the United States. Does his arrest represent a victory for believers in justice, or a blow to the sanctity of journalism?
In 2010, Assange and WikiLeaks came into prominence with their unveiling of classified United States military footage depicting the murder of a dozen people in Baghdad from a stealth Apache helicopter. Following this leak, an international debate ensued that continues to persist to this day.
The filmmakers encapsulate this event and much more that has occurred in its wake, including the relationships between Assange and his sources, the risks versus rewards of his whistleblowing efforts, his strenuous collaborations with mainstay media outlets, and how he has challenged the limits of journalistic integrity in the modern digital age.
Far from a dry retelling of widely circulated headlines, the film benefits from the perspectives of figures who knew Assange best. WikiLeaks co-workers share their personal insights on the enigmatic ring leader, and take viewers behind the curtain for many of the key actions that have molded his controversial image in the public consciousness.
Conversely, the film also offers the opposing view from critics who claim Assange's efforts crossed a line that placed lives at risk. "There was real harm to real people as a result of what WikiLeaks did," says one.
Hero or Villain: The Prosecution of Julian Assange is an excellent primer on this multi-layered scandal.