They say that "there's no such thing as bad publicity," and while the controversy surrounding The Interview - in which Seth Rogen and James Franco travel to North Korea to assassinate its head of State, Kim Jong-un - made the film a household name in recent weeks, Sony proved that heated discussion can only do so much good. Once terror threats were made against any theaters showing the film on its December 25 release date, the studio was forced to make a difficult decision.
It began with granting theater owners the freedom to postpone release as they saw fit (since every threat of violence is to be taken seriously), and eventually culminated in Sony canceling release plans altogether. The risk of attack was, understandably, deemed something that should be avoided if at all possible - at least philosophically.
Yet there's no overlooking the fact that after unknown hackers (originating in North Korea, according to US officials) threatened violence if a film was released to the American public, Sony has conceded the matter, leaving the film's release in limbo. Because of that, it's no surprise that a wave of actors, writers, directors, and industry talent have shared their concerns over the right to freedom of speech, and the precedent that Sony has now set for any future film that draws the ire of a foreign government or militant group.
Despite Sony's official statement on their decision claiming that they "stand by their filmmakers and their right to free expression," writer/star/director Seth Rogen's frequent collaborator Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, This is 40) made his feelings on the matter clear via Twitter - with late night host Jimmy Kimmel supporting the sentiment:
. @JuddApatow I agree wholeheartedly. An un-American act of cowardice that validates terrorist actions and sets a terrifying precedent.
— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) December 17, 2014
It isn't just The Interview - a film that, presumably, many people felt passionately about getting made - that is suffering from the terror threats, with Deadline reporting that New Regency has scrapped its plans for the Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)/Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) thriller set within North Korea as well. Verbinski offered a statement to the outlet about his view on the matter, saying, "I find it ironic that fear is eliminating the possibility to tell stories that depict our ability to overcome fear." Carell made his regrets known online as well:
Sad day for creative expression. #feareatsthesoul
— Steve Carell (@SteveCarell) December 17, 2014
Though Verbinski, Carell, and others expressed regret over the entire situation and its fallout, some aimed their criticisms directly at Sony, asking what good could come from granting an unknown group's demands after they threatened American lives?
Really hard to believe this is the response to a threat to freedom of expression here in America. #TheInterview
— Ben Stiller (@RedHourBen) December 18, 2014
Wow. Everyone caved. The hackers won. An utter and complete victory for them. Wow.
— Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) December 17, 2014
The list goes on and on, with actor/comedian Patton Oswalt warning that "we just gave a comfy foothold to censorship & it doesn't get any better from this point on" and asking if re-runs of M*A*S*H* are the next casualty. Damon Wayans, Jr. claims that "We do not negotiate with terrorists. We just do exactly what they say." Filmmaker Zach Braff warns that canceling the film's release "seems like a pretty horrible precedent to set." And writer Neil Gaiman asks if the move has shown "that hacking & threats work very well? That may prove an error."
As further evidence that the issue at hand is far more complicated than some might claim, directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (Crank, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) offered a defense of Sony:
and before we dump on Sony for "caving", realize that they got virtually no support and had absolutely no choice
— neveldine/taylor (@neveldinetaylor) December 18, 2014
Those are just a small number of filmmakers, writers and actors openly questioning the outcome arrived at by Sony and theater owners, but some individuals are already finding ways to oppose the overall sentiment. Take, for instance, the Alamo Drafthouse in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, who had planned on screening The Interview regardless of other theater chains' decision...
— Alamo Drafthouse DFW (@AlamoDFW) December 17, 2014
The real tragedy here is that the people most to blame for the situation - the hackers, who may or may not be acting on behalf of the North Korean government - can't be accused, nor can the legitimacy of their threats be confirmed or refuted. So who, then, should take responsibility for this erosion of America's stance on "never negotiating with terrorists"? Is it the theater owners, who did what they could to prevent their customers from being harmed? Sony, for being left with few other options? Or Rogen and Franco, for making a movie that could have led to just this kind of international tension?
Whether the fate of The Interview (which, we should point out, isn't particularly likely to be a high-minded "achievement" in cinema) lies on anyone's shoulders when all is said and done, this outcome is undeniably a harmful one moving forward. It may be a crass comedy this time around, but when a writer or director seeks to make a truly powerful and politically dangerous film in America, will a canceled release be so easy to attain for those who wish to see the message silenced?
We invite you to share your own thoughts in the comments, and will keep you updated if and when Sony reveals a new plan for The Interview's theatrical release.