The Cancellation: Why Sony Pulling Out Of “The Interview” Is Worrisome

On Wednesday, December 17, Sony announced that it was cancelling any future release plans for Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s The Interview. The move worries me in a number of ways, but first let’s look at what lead to this.

In the film, Rogen and James Franco’s characters travel to North Korea to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. In June, North Korean officials declared the film an “act of war” and vowed to retaliate against the US if the film was released. Grandiose threats are one of North Korea’s major exports. 

To be somewhat fair, the US government would likely be upset at a major motion picture depicting Barack Obama’s assassination. Although, the faux documentary Death of a President (2006), which depicts the fictional assassination of George W. Bush, was still released after receiving negative attention from politicians and being banned by some theater chains. Zero Dark Thirty (2012) also comes to mind as one of these topical and what some would call “dangerous” movies.

Sony then announced in August that The Interview was being pushed back from October to Christmas Day. This push back seemed to be motivated by economics (college winter break) than by fear and threats.

Sony was hacked in late November, resulting in the release of thousands of emails — several of which were made public and were embarrassing — and a number of scripts, including a draft of the upcoming James Bond movie, Spectre.

American officials are now stating that North Korea was “centrally involved” in the hack.

Earlier this week, Franco and Rogen cancelled all media appearances for the movie after the hackers issued more threats. The “Guardians of Peace,” as they call themselves, issued this message:

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.
Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made.
The world will be full of fear.
Remember the 11th of September 2001.
We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time.
(If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)
Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
All the world will denounce the SONY.

Several theater chains refused to show The Interview, which prompted Sony to completely drop release plans for the $44 million movie.

Some are urging Sony to release the film through video-on-demand and online, but the company says it will not.

So, here we are – let’s check the scorecard. The Interview will not be released in any way or anywhere. The cast, crew, and viewing public are without a product. Sony is down $44 million, plus the marketing costs of the picture, without an apparent source of returns and revenue. The hackers have achieved their goal of stopping the film.

At this point, I believe that the movie is dead. Some comment on this issue by noting all this free publicity, that there’s no such thing as bad press, that it’ll work out for Sony in the end, etc. I don’t see this as good press by any means. Considering that the film is a product to be sold to a viewing audience, this pulled-from-theaters, oddly controversial, and, according to some, potentially “unsafe” status is a death knell. Sony would have to do a lot to re-hype the picture. This seems unlikely given that several major theater chains won’t even show the movie.

Of course, something could change all of this, but it is doubtful. Sony is recovering from the hacking issue and likely wants to avoid anything potentially controversial.

I’m hesitant, but not sympathetically so, to chastise Sony about dropping the movie.Through a practical lens, it seems like the economically sound and, to a degree, responsible thing to do after such threats.

However, these threats are just threats — ones that the US Department of Homeland Security have said are not credible.

Threats of violence are nothing new to the film industry. For example, Martin Scorsese and Kevin Smith received death threats for The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Dogma (1999), respectively.

What differs with The Interview is that the threats are not just of murder, but terrorism, the future shocking idea of cyberterrorism, and the specter of the September 11, 2001 attacks. What if the hackers didn’t reference 9/11? Would we still be in the same situation? What made this threat seem more actual than it appears?

Peter W. Singer provides some fresh air in this interview with Motherboard, in which he strongly states that the Sony breach was hacking, not cyberterrorism.

“By caving in,” says Singer, “[Sony] may think they’re cutting their losses, but they’re setting an absolutely horrible precedent that makes every other company less safe moving forward.”

The world will be full of fear. It looks like the hackers were right.

-Ryan Pumroy

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2 comments

  1. In sharing my opinion right here right now, I know I’m only perpetuating the same old wheel spinning that’s been going on quite heatedly for days now. However, I’m glad you put your thoughts down because its helped to solidify an idea that’s turning over in my head; there is no winning here. If Sony were to orchestrate themselves differently, they’d be chastised by plenty of circles just as bad as they currently are.

    I know I’ve already said that “The Interview” didn’t register on my radar, but to be fair that doesn’t factor into my opinion. Had “The Interview” been something more in line with my tastes, I’d still be singing the same tune. That tune sounds like this: we need to think about the greater good–public safety. Yeah, yeah, yeah…the Department of Homeland Security says these threats aren’t credible, but The White House hints at something otherwise.

    Precedent tells us that threats of violence are nothing new to the film industry, but precedent is often broken.

    If and when human lives–even one life–is at stake, and when the U.S. government has more questions than honest to god answers, I say there is less wrong with a little tactical retreat than macho posturing.

    Like

    1. I’m reminded of the recent Senate report on the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program. Many question the report. “Won’t this endanger American lives if you release this report?” You know what, we’re all in some sort of danger if this is the benchmark. There are terrorists in the world. It’s a fact. Particularly, Islamic extremist groups have been on the attack for more than 30 years — and they’ve been attacking all over the world, actually very rarely inside the US (1993 WTC bombing, 9/11/2001, and perhaps the Boston Marathon bombing if you want to count that “lone wolf” attack).

      Now people are worried about even more amorphous North Korean hackers. The public is not in mortal danger. People make a lot of threats, and these can be scary. Sony and employees were hacked. Information and property was leaked, and that can be scary. But this particular instance with “The Interview” doesn’t come from anything truly credible. This is not terrorism or cyberterrorism in the destruction sense. North Koreans will not invade the US and kill Americans. This is not the “Red Dawn” remake. No, this only approaches terrorism if we allow ourselves to be paralyzed and controlled by fear.

      It’s understandable why the cinema chains and Sony did what they did, but they acted too rashly.

      Like

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