The Interview Gets Pulled

[Content Note: Terrorism.]

I don't even know what to make of this business: The Interview is a comedy film starring James Franco and Seth Rogen about two celebrity tabloid journalists who land an interview with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, and are recruited by the CIA to exploit the opportunity to assassinate him. It was slated to debut in theaters at Christmas, but following a major hacking at Sony and terrorist threats to cinemagoers, which prompted several major cinema chains to cancel screenings in the US, Sony has pulled the release altogether.
A group calling itself Guardians of Peace (GOP) published an online message on Tuesday warning cinemagoers to stay away from screenings of The Interview, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The threats led five of biggest cinema chains in the US to drop the film. A federal investigation is also under way.

The decision to cancel the release marks the climax of a torrid month for Sony. GOP has also claimed responsibility for a huge hack on Sony's computer systems in November, which led to the release of thousands of confidential documents revealing executive pay structure, corporate profits, unreleased films, personal email correspondence and employee social security numbers.

"In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release. We respect and understand our partners' decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theatergoers," Sony Pictures said in a statement.
Anonymous senior Obama administration officials have said that North Korea was "centrally involved" in the hacking. What that means, exactly, is unclear:
It's unclear from the Times report what "centrally involved" means and whether the intelligence officials are saying the hackers were state-sponsored or actually agents of the state. The Times also notes that "It is not clear how the United States came to its determination that the North Korean regime played a central role in the Sony attacks." The public evidence pointing at the Hermit Kingdom is flimsy.

...It was only on December 8, after a week of media stories connecting North Korea and the Sony film to the hack, that the attackers made their first reference to the film in one of their public announcements. But they continued to trounce the theory that North Korea was behind their actions, and they denied ownership of an email sent to Sony staffers after the hack, threatening them and their families with harm if they didn't denounce their employer.

At this point, it's quite possible the media are guilty of inspiring the hacker's narrative, since it was only after news reports tying the attack to the Sony film that GOP began condemning the movie in public statements. This week the hackers have pounced on that narrative, using it to escalate the stakes by making oblique terrorist threats against the film's New York premiere and theaters scheduled to screen it Christmas day.
A lot of jumbled thoughts about this at the moment:

* I think Sony is making a corporate, capitalist decision. Lots of people are talking about free speech and free expression and letting the terrorists win and lots of lofty concepts that realistically have nothing to do with Sony's decision-making. I'm not saying those issues are irrelevant full-stop; I'm saying that I don't think corporations care very much about them when they're making business decisions, except insomuch as they'll claim to be heroes of free speech when it happens to align with their financial interests.

* I think the concept of this film is shitty, and treating North Korea like a punchline is asshole behavior. Listen to any US late-night talkshow monologue on any night of any week, and there's bound to be a joke about North Korea; about Kim Jong-un being "weird." We spend way more time in this country making jokes about North Korea than we do talking about how it is one of the cruelest regimes on the planet. And I don't buy this nonsense about how privileged white American men make jokes about Kim Jong-un because he's awful. No one with any decency can read an account of what happens in North Korea's prison work camps and decide the best way to address that sort of unfathomable cruelty is with jokes about Kim Jong-un's haircut. Fuck off. This film never should have been made in the first place, out of respect for the people of North Korea.

* That said, I don't think one's opinion of whether and how this matters should be based on what kind of film (genre-wise) it is. People haughtily sniffing indifference because it's a lowbrow comedy (and not because of the content of that comedy) are showing their classist asses.

* I also think it's kind of precious that lots of privileged white people are pretending that this is the first time that this sort of capitulation has happened, when, in fact, as Sydette pointed out on Twitter, films made by and with black people, stories of black lives, have been pulled in certain parts of the country dozens of times because of threats from white supremacists. And there was hardly this level of outrage about that.

* What are you even talking about, Mitt Romney?!

screen cap of tweet authored by Mitt Romney reading: '@SonyPictures don't cave, fight: release @TheInterview free online globally. Ask viewers for voluntary $5 contribution to fight #Ebola.'

(Thanks to Jessica Luther, who knows my soul, for passing along that tweet.)

So, yeah. Those are my thoughts at the moment. In summation: Because James Franco. Discuss.

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