The whole thing feels like an absurd movie. Yesterday, Sony Pictures decided to cancel the release of The Interview, a silly comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco. The decision came after hackers linked to North Korea threatened terrorism against theatres that showed the film. Yesterday, four major movie theatre chains – including Canada’s Cineplex – decided not to run The Interview. The Wall Street Journal reported that Comcast, the largest cable company in the U.S., would have refused to show the film. So, that distribution method is out. Sony consequently decided against releasing the picture. So it’s done. No one is going to see The Interview in theatres, or on TV.
Reaction has been swift, with most criticizing Sony for its decision to cave on The Interview. The thought is that accepting the terms set by anyone, let alone a corrupt and oppressive regime, endangers freedom of expression. Alan Dershowitz, in perhaps the most Dershowitz-y phrase possible, called the situation “the Pearl Harbor of the First Amendment.”
It’s dramatic, sure – but there is a larger point to be made about precedent-setting. The Interview was going to be a mostly trivial movie meant to satirize how we think about freedom. It was never going to be a paradigm-shifting film. But pulling it lends credibility to terrorists who want to shape how we view a certain topic. And that is no small thing.
It feels over the top to be outraged about this, but the Sony decision has already had unsavoury consequences. Within hours of the movie cancellation, New Regency Pictures announced it has cancelled a North Korea-set project that hasn’t even begun shooting. Pyongyang, an espionage thriller directed by Gore Verbinski, and starring Steve Carell, was supposed to start production in March. It has fallen as collateral in the aftermath of this whole mess.
Film producer Bill Gerber recently said, “I’ve got to believe that this will spook anybody from considering making the North Koreans bad guys in a film.” North Korea is far from the only repressive regime in the world. But Gerber’s quote reveals the fundamental problem here: are we still allowed to say that there are bad people in the world? Or will we need their permission first? Can you imagine if any of the auteurs of our time wanted to make a movie about ISIS, and due to threats, the project was pulled? That suggestion is troubling.
That, no doubt, is going to be debated in magazines and newspapers over the next few weeks. While that conversation takes place, we at TVO decided to do what we do best: provide context. Our award-winning documentary The Defector: Escape from North Korea, is up and running on our website. Documentaries serve an important role in this space: they investigate the truth and give viewers the tools to understand. The Defector shows the repressive nature of the North Korean regime, and the difficulty of escaping it. You can watch it above, and we’re going to re-air it on Monday, January 5th at 10 p.m.
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