L to R: Dirk Wilutzky, Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, and Lindsay Mills (second from the right) onstage during the 87th Annual Academy Awards on Feb. 22, 2015.
Image: Kevin Winter
When the journalists behind the documentary Citizenfour took to the stage to the accept the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature on Sunday, they stood alongside a young woman who you may not have recognized.
Lindsay Mills has been central to the life of whistleblower Edward Snowden, on whom the film is focused.
The award-winning film, directed by Laura Poitras, charts the initial meeting in Hong Kong with Poitras, journalist Glenn Greenwald and Snowden, who leaked National Security Agency (NSA) documents on a domestic surveillance program targeting Americans’ phone and email records. Both Poitras and Greenwald accompanied Mills to accept the award.
Mills, Snowden’s girlfriend, lived with him in Hawaii and later joined Snowden in Moscow, where he has been granted asylum since the revelations came to light in June 2013. She has been living with him in Russia since 2014.
Mills’ life was thrown into the spotlight after Snowden leaked the NSA documents, but she has largely flown under the radar since then, occasionally being photographed alongside Snowden in Moscow.
On Sunday night, she represented Snowden onstage; if Snowden steps foot on U.S. soil, he faces several charges under the Espionage Act.
Poitras thanked Snowden for his “courage” and dedicated the award to the whistleblowers of the world.
“The disclosures that Edward Snowden reveals don’t only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself,” she said in the acceptance speech. “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.”
Greenwald applauded Mills’ bravery and called her an “impressive woman” in a tweet he sent shortly after. On the red carpet prior to the shot, Greenwald said that Snowden would be watching the awards ceremony.
Snowden made a statement on the win through the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents him.
When Laura Poitras asked me if she could film our encounters, I was extremely reluctant. I’m grateful that I allowed her to persuade me. The result is a brave and brilliant film that deserves the honor and recognition 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.
In a conversation with the ACLU before the win for Best Documentary Feature, Poitras touched on her motivations for making the film, which delves into Snowden’s journey as a person as his revelations come to light.
“I made a film about him because I felt it was important to understand why such a young person — with so much ahead of him, 29 years old, making a good salary with a partner that he loved — would risk everything,” Poitras said.
After the winners left the stage, Oscars host Neil Patrick Harris quipped that “Edward Snowden couldn’t be here, for some treason.”
Though Harris’ flippant joke resonated with the crowd and viewers, Snowden is not, in fact, being charged with treason. Rather, he faces charges of theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.
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