‘The Interview,’ Corporate Cowardice and Free Speech

The INterview

It sounds like the plot of a movie or episode of Scandal or The Newsroom. A film, book or album offends powers that be somewhere who blackmail the company releasing it to ax the release. Even if the work was so bad that it did not warrant release, the reason for withholding it is repugnant to anyone who has fought for artistic freedom. The real-life situation where Sony Pictures pulled the plug on releasing its movie, The Interview, will go down in the annals of corporate cowardice for years to come as a black mark against support of the basic American right of free speech.

For those amazed that a James Franco and Seth Rogan comedy would have the gravitas to create a major international hullabaloo, welcome to the altered reality of The Interview. The film is about a duo who are behind a popular TV tabloid show. They find out the Kim John Un, leader of North Korea, is a fan and set out to interview him. Along the way, however, the CIA recruits them to assassinate the Korean leader. It is not based on a true story and is supposed to be a comic caper film.

Angered about the portrayal of their leader in The Interview, the North Koreans allegedly hacked Sony in November and threatened retaliation if the film is released. Sony caved after some theater chains backed out of showing the film and pulled its release.

President Obama took Sony to task for not releasing The Interview as planned in Friday’s press conference. He noted that Sony made the decision without contacting the White House. Obama added that we cannot allow a dictator someplace else to start imposing censorship here. The president pointed out the ability to intimidate a studio out of releasing a satirical movie could lead to censorship of documentary and new reports. He expressed concern that distributors and producers might start engaging in self-censorship to avoid offending “somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.”

Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton defended his firm and claims they did not cave in. “The unfortunate part is in this instance,” according to Lynton, “is the President, the press, and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened. He claims that his company was told by several major theater chains that they would not be showing The Interview for fear of a terrorist attack as threatened by the hackers. So, they cancelled the release scheduled for Christmas Day.

While Lynton may feel the move was justified, the company spokesperson said, “Sony Pictures has no further release plans for the film,” when asked about a digital or VOD release instead. Perhaps the spokesperson should have said, “We are working on release plans and will announce them shortly.” However, the flat “we have no plans …” in the face of an unprecedented caving in to censorship pressure was the epitome of spinelessness.

George Clooney has been telling the media that he is afraid this issue will have a chilling effect on the kind of movies Hollywood makes. He make the point that it will be harder to find distribution now for any movies that might be controversial “and that’s a chilling effect.” Clooney urged Sony to get over its corporate cowardice and support free speech by doing whatever they can to get The Interview out. Clooney urged Sony to do so, “not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I’m not going to be told we can’t see the movie. That’s the most important part.”

Opinion by Dyanne Weiss

ABC News
Christian Science Monitor
New York Times

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