Mary Fetchet learned her son's voice was used in the film "Zero Dark Thirty" not from Columbia Pictures, the subsidiary of Sony that distributed the movie, not from the film's director Kathryn Bigelow, or from its writer Mark Boal.
"No, we received an email in mid-November from a 9/11 family member that had seen a preview. She told us she recognized Brad's voice in a collage they used to set the stage for the film," Fetchet said.
When Fetchet went to see the movie, she was horrified to hear her son's voice come through the speakers in the film's opening montage.
Fetchet, the founding director of New Canaan-based Voices of September 11th, and her husband, Frank, lost their son, Brad, when al-Qaida operatives flew a hijacked jet plane into the south tower of the World Trade Center where he worked.
The Fetchets had no idea the message he left on their home answering machine that morning was being used in the Best Picture-nominated film about the operation to hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden. Neither Brad nor any of the others whose voices were used were listed in the film's credits.
"We were shocked by that," said Frank Fetchet, as he sat in the New Canaan office of Voices of September 11th.
Mary Fetchet said she was astounded that Boal and Bigelow had "the audacity to take someone's last words to his mother before his horrible death" and use them in the film without asking permission.
It remains unclear how the filmmakers got the clip, which the Fetchets said is their property.
"Mary's used it while testifying in Congress; they could have snagged it from somewhere," Frank said. "We've asked them that point blank," but to no response.
Voices of September 11th aims "to provide a wide range of programs that promote resiliency for thousands of 9/11 families, rescue workers and survivors living in the United States and abroad, commemorates the lives lost, advocates for reforms to make our country safer and shares lessons learned to assist others responding to traumatic events," according to its mission statement.
The Fetchets said using Brad's voice brought back memories and feelings that are painful. They added that they feel violated in some way since they were not asked permission first.
"It brings all the hurt that you keep inside to the forefront," Frank said. "It's like September 11 all over again. It's been really hard on us ... . Not only have we been violated, but Brad gets murdered by terrorists and now he's been violated."
Frank said he did not see the film because it would have been too hard for him, but Mary did.
"His voice was so clear, it was almost like he was in the theater," she recalled, surmising that the reason was because while many of the calls came from cellphones, Brad's was from the landline in his office on the 89th floor to the family's home answering machine. "It took my breath away when I heard his voice."
Brad was the oldest of the couple's three sons. He attended West School, Saxe Middle School and New Canaan High School. He graduated in 1999 from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, where he played hockey and lacrosse. At 24 years old, he had started as an equities trader for the financial services company Keefe, Bruyette and Woods.
"He was a real mentor to his younger brothers. We really miss him," Mary said.
"I say a prayer for him every day, as I get my clothing set," Frank added.
Frank remembered that Brad had called him that morning from the office to tell him what was going on.
"It was a chaotic situation. He saw someone jump out of the other tower. I said, `Call mom, she'll be relieved to hear your voice.'"
But Mary was out of the house and the call went to voicemail. It's that voicemail that has become the issue.
In response to the uproar around use of victims' voices, Sony released the following statement:
"`Zero Dark Thirty' was borne out of the tragedy of September 11, a day that left an indelible mark on all Americans, but none more so than those who lost so much on that tragic day. While the film tells the 10 year story of how America brought the terrorist behind 9/11 to justice, we recognize that this remains a delicate and painful subject for many. That's why the filmmakers, beginning before the film's release, initiated contact with a number of family members of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, including some whose voices can be heard on publicly released tapes.We hope that `Zero Dark Thirty' is, in some small way, a tribute to those forever affected by the events of 9/11 and to those who worked so hard and risked so much to see that justice was done."
The "publicly released" nature of the recordings is likely why no lawsuit has been filed. According to a Feb. 27 Entertainment Weekly article, the fact that Mary Fetchet has publicized the message, as she did in congressional testimony, the recordings become an issue of fair use and the holder loses the privacy rights to it. The article quoted Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment expert and professor of law at UCLA. He is also the founder of the website The Volokh Conspiracy.
The Fetchets haven't filed a lawsuit but say that, "ethically, morally, the judgment is horrible."
Mary Fetchet hopes that others who have suffered through tragedy will not have to deal with this type of disturbance in the future. She mentioned that she hopes nothing similar will happen with the shootings in Newtown.
"I hope that whatever we're doing gets the attention of Hollywood so it thinks twice," she said.
According to the Fetchets, Sony said that while it was too late to change the movie, the DVD version of the film will include the names of those whose voices were used in the beginning of the film in the credits, and have included a list of foundations helping those affected by 9/11 on the film's website. Voices of September 11th is the top name on the list.
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