Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sony’s cancellation of The Interview: cautious or cowardly?

by Melissa Scott

Not even the funny sexy Seth Rogen or the sexy sexy James Franco can save the cancelled release of Sony Entertainment’s The Interview. Set to premiere on Christmas Day, the American action comedy involved a journalist and his producer (Franco and Rogen) who managed to obtain an interview with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. The CIA asks the duo to assassinate him. Rogen explained in an interview that he intended the film to work as a political satire against North Korea’s totalitarian regime, as well as a comedy.

While the North Korean government issued complaints over the film for months, it wasn't until late November that a group, identifying themselves as the “Guardians of the Peace,” began to attack Sony Entertainment more seriously. The group hacked into the Sony database, and leaked private data, including confidential company documents, a number of unreleased Sony films, and the script for the forthcoming James Bond movie, Spectre. After making it clear that the attack was a result of The Interview, the hackers continued to release the names, social security numbers, and addresses of staff members.

The hackers also targeted private emails, which included embarrassing conversations between Sony employees. Hollywood producer Scott Rudin and Sony co-chairman Amy Pascal apparently shared a few racial jokes about Obama. Rudin’s accompanying description of Angelina Jolie as a “minimally talented spoilt brat” made headlines. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin also took the heat after his leaked dismissal of female-led Hollywood roles as being less challenging than their male equivalents.

The hackers turned to violence, threatening terrorist attacks on the Sony employees and cinemas if The Interview screened as planned. “We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places The Interview be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to,” they wrote. “Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made.” Barely a day later, FBI officials confirmed their belief that the North Korean government was behind the cyber attack and threats.

Following the threat, Rogen and Franco pulled out of all of their future promotional appearances, including guest spots on “Watch What Happens Live,” “Late Night with Seth Myers,”  “The Tonight Show,” and others. Finally, Sony’s decision to pull the film altogether cemented as too many of the biggest movie theater chains in the US (like AMC and Regal) publicly cancelled their showings. They based their decisions on safety concerns for staff and movie-goers. “In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release,” Sony said in a statement. “We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.”

Hollywood fired back at the decision, scorning Sony’s submission to “terrorist” demands. Judd Apatow retorted: “It is disgraceful that these theaters aren't showing The Interview. Will they pull any movie that gets an anonymous threat now?” Rob Lowe simply stated, “Wow. Everybody caved. The hackers won.” Jimmy Kimmel agreed, calling the decision an “un-American act of cowardice that validates terrorist actions and sets a terrifying precedent.” However, George Martin, Game of Thrones author and owner of Santa Fe’s Jean Cocteau Cinema, promoted his own theater’s interest in screening the film, vehemently affirming his disgust at North Korea’s control over US entertainment. “I haven’t seen The Interview…It might be hilarious. It might be stupid and offensive and outrageous. It might be all of the above,” he admitted. “That’s not the point, though…it astonishes me that a major Hollywood film could be killed before release by threats from a foreign power and anonymous hackers.”

George Clooney also slammed Sony power players for withdrawing the film. In an interview with online trade publication, he angrily revealed that no one would sign a petition he and his agent circulated to top Hollywood figures supporting the film’s release. Clooney also criticized the media’s circulation and greater interest in the scandal of the Sony employee emails leaked, remarking that the country should be focusing on the real problem--the censoring power of North Korea. “We’re talking about an actual country deciding what content we’re going to have. This affects every part of business that we have,” Clooney said. “We cannot be told we can’t see something by Kim Jong-Un.”

Even President Obama spoke out against Sony Pictures’ decision to cancel The Interview. “Sony is a corporation…There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.” He admitted, “I wish they had spoken to me first. We cannot have a society in which some dictatorship someplace can start imposing censorship.”

The celebrities are right: movie-goers should have a right to decide if they want to see the film, and screen-writers should have a right to decide what film they want to make. While caution needs to be considered following the threats, North Korea still shouldn't be able to dictate our freedom of speech, and censor our entertainment. The theater chains were clearly fearful of the risk of terrorist acts, but pulling The Interview does set an ominous precedent. Studios will likely be much more cautious concerning movie ideas.  The mix of fear and self-expression could be a troublesome creative cocktail.


  1. It is not a very good movie but you are right,we have to defend our right to see it or we will always be under threat.


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