The Interview, Kim Jong Un, and Sony’s Cowardice

As you can tell from the headline, I am not in a mood to mince words.

There are many things to be offended about in today’s world. You can be offended about the hostage situation in Australia. You can be offended about the Taliban slaughtering children. Here in the U.S., you can be offended over the fact that police officers keep killing unarmed people and don’t seem to be facing any consequences.

I am offended and saddened by all of those things. But this also hits me in a way I didn’t really expect, simply because I never believed something like this could happen.

Following a massive hack to their servers and various threats against theaters that were going to show the Seth Rogen/James Franco vehicle The Interview, Sony Pictures has pulled its release. It has stated that it has no plans to release it in theaters, on Blu Ray, or on Netflix.  It is languishing in a vault somewhere. Right now, it’s looking like we may not see the film at all.

I hope I’m wrong; that’s not how the world should be.

That it was The Interview that was pulled was irrelevant. It could have been any film and my reaction would still be the same. I’m not saying The Interview is some sort of artistic masterpiece and its vaulting is the equivalent of the destruction of Greed. I have no way to make a proper assessment of the film. It could be a terrible film with flat comedy and bad performances. In fact, some critics who managed to see it say that’s exactly the case. The Rotten Tomato score is at 52%. It could be the greatest film ever made, a poignant satire on international relations and the looming spectre of the Cold War on the world. I doubt that last scenario, but the trailer did look funny and I was a fan of This is the End.

There are countless lost films out there. Some were lost to time due to neglect. Others were completed but canned due to an actor’s death or rights issues that were not worked out before. Some (like the infamous The Day the Clown Cried) were shelved because the creator found it unwatchable and embarrassing.

That’s not what happened with The Interview. It was ready to go. Promotional material was released. Posters adorned lobbies. Trailers were up on YouTube. The two main stars started granting interviews in relation to their upcoming film. (Seth Rogen was one of the last guests on The Colbert Report.) It would have probably done well at the box office had it been released as scheduled.

And now, that’s all gone for two reasons. And both of them are terrible reasons.

For one, North Korea’s reaction is pathetically stupid even for a terrible despot who has witnessed his people starve but uses his country’s exports of fake U.S. currency, crystal meth, and insurance fraud to buy Yves St Laurent cigarettes and sauna equipment so he can beat hangovers after partying all night. This while the majority of North Koreans literally eat grass – those that aren’t stuck in nightmarish, dystopian gulags and have to resort to eating hard pieces in cow feces to eat anything at all.

Dictators have been portrayed in film since there was film. They’ve been discussed in literature for centuries. There have been countries to ban works, sure. But declaring a film to be an act of war, especially when that film has no chance of reaching your shores anyway, is stupid. Hitler never threatened to assassinate Charlie Chaplin over The Great Dictator. Suddam Hussein never threatened to bomb the U.S. mainland when Hot Shots Part Deux roared into theaters. Mussolini felt that the Marx Brothers classic Duck Soup was about him and so banned it in Italy, but it didn’t result in Harpo having to employ a bodyguard.

And I’m not even going to count the number of times the U.S. president has been the target in any number of espionage films. Did anyone arrest the director of Air Force One or In the Line of Fire for portraying a president in danger of being murdered? Fox News rallied against a little seen mockumentary called Death of a President, but they didn’t hack into Lionsgate’s servers and post emails that suggested Jason Statham demanded fresh, virgin tiger blood every day on the set of Crank.

So what, you corpulent, idiotic, pathetic, spineless, nefarious, vile, stupid imbecilic freak makes you so special?

That clip is above is from the aforementioned Death of a President. I’ve seen it. It was an interesting piece of speculative fiction that didn’t really live up to its premise. It may be vulgar and offensive to depict a world leader in that manner. I didn’t find it vulgar, mostly because the film didn’t really take a position on Bush as a human being or as a president.

But I can see that and make that analysis.  (So can you, if you’re so inclined. It’s on Hulu.)

Which brings me to my next point – Sony’s reaction.

After everything that happened, and after their moment to become the beacon of free speech, they pulled the film. They chickened out. They did exactly the opposite thing they needed to do.

“We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome,” Sony said in its statement as they demonstrated they don’t stand by their filmmakers or their right to free expression by pulling The Interview from its release schedule.

I know how damaging the hack was to them. The emails make some of their top executives seem quite unprofessional and may alienate a few powerful people in Hollywood. But that’s business. Sometimes you have to work with people you don’t like and sometimes your relationships change. What’s going to be a lot worse is how they will have no support from that artistic community. Why would anyone work for Sony if they’re going to have to constantly compromise and may not even allow their films to be seen? That’s far worse than telling Angelina Jolie that she’s out of her mind for calling a meeting about the editing process.

Now, I know what you’re going to say, “It’s better safe than sorry.” “They threatened us with terrorist attacks. The theaters would have been targets. We can’t show the film now,” you think, as a car backfires and you run for cover.

Well, you could also get into a car wreck each time you drive. In fact, that’s far more likely than being a victim of a terrorist attack while watching a movie. Vastly more likely. So should we ban cars to keep you safe?

I have a feeling you would have some words about such a ban, but math is on my side. So let’s ban cars! North Korea doesn’t have cars and the only traffic accidents they have are the top political officials who fall out of favor or criticize the Dear Leader.

See, this is the problem. Sony and theater chain owners were afraid of something that could not realistically happen. The threat was enough to give North Korea what they wanted. Some would compare their actions to those of Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister that helped create the Munich Agreement. But that’s not a worthy comparison. The British populace didn’t want war and may not have been in a position to fight the Nazis. North Korea is in no position to do anything (see that statement about the exports and how the citizenry eats grass) and people wanted to see the film. But Sony and American theater owners still backed down.

This would have been a lot worse if people came out supporting Sony in the interest of not being yelled out. Luckily, the reaction seems to be the opposite. Sony’s actions have been heavily criticized. Kim Jong Un’s death scene from the film has already leaked. Franco is still making public appearances. (He was part of the ensemble that helped play Stephen Colbert off his show.) And above all, Kim Jong Un is not winning anyone’s approval. People think about him, I’m sure, but this has put him in the news in a bad light more than even the UN’s report on his human rights abuses.

That’s the ultimate victory of pop culture. Usually, politics is boring and indecipherable. But when it hits the people directly, that’s when change comes.

In the short term, maybe that means The Interview is released in theaters. In the long run? Maybe people around the world realize they cannot be bullied when they demand access to something.

The second The Interview is released, I will review it. For now, I am going to criticize Sony in the manner they deserve. Shame on you for bowing to North Korea. Shame on you for censoring an artistic work. And shame on you for expecting us to praise you for making the choice you made.

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