“Citizenfour,” the movie focusing on government leaker Edward Snowden, won the Academy Award for best documentary on Sunday evening.
In receiving the award, director Laura Poitras thanked Snowden and “the many other whistleblowers” featured in the film who attempted to expose government secrecy.
“The disclosures that Edward Snowden revealed don’t only expose the threat to our privacy, but to our democracy itself,” she said.
“When the most important decisions being made affecting all of us are made in secret, we lose our ability to check the powers that control.”
The Oscar is the latest award for Poitras, who also worked on Pulitzer Prize-winning stories about Snowden’s leaks for The Washington Post and the Guardian. Supporters of Snowden have used the recognition as validation that the former government contractor was justified in spilling his secrets, despite critics' claims that it jeopardized national security.
Poitras was joined onstage by Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian reporter who has been closely associated with the Snowden story, as well as Lindsay Mills, Snowden’s girlfriend, who has moved with him to Moscow following his leaks.
“The subject of ‘Citizenfour,’ Edward Snowden, could not be here tonight for some reason,” award show host Neil Patrick Harris joked after the award was presented. Snowden is wanted on multiple espionage charged and would face decades in prison in the U.S. if he were to return. He has been granted temporary asylum in Russia for the last year and a half.
Poitras’s film documents the time that she and Greenwald spent with Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room in the summer of 2013, after he contacted them with his scores of documents. It also tells a broader story of government secrecy by focusing on other leakers, such as former National Security Agency (NSA) official William Binney.
Snowden’s leaks pulled back the curtain on a vast web of secret government spying programs that continue to be mired in controversy. Despite public outrage at home and abroad, many core aspects of the programs remain relatively unchanged.
In a statement distributed by the American Civil Liberties Union on Sunday evening, Snowden called “Citizenfour” a “brave and brilliant film” that deserves the honors it has received.
“My hope is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world,” he added.