USA: Sony Pictures cancels film premiere after intimidation and threats

22 December 2014


Sony Pictures has cancelled the premiere of a US$44 million comedy film about the fictional assassination of North Korea’s leader, ‘The Interview’. The cancellation comes after the hacking of Sony’s computer system and threats of terror.

In June 2014, North Korea called the movie an act of war and promised “a merciless counter-measure” if it hit cinema theatres. The movie’s parent company, Sony Pictures, saw its first consequences on 24 November, when cyberattacks by a group calling itself the Guardians of Peace exposed emails and employee records (including social security numbers) from the company. North Korea denied involvement, even though the malware used in the attack was written in Korean language.

On 16 December, the Guardians of Peace warned movie-goers to stay home upon the release of ‘The Interview’, threatening 9/11-style attacks, and the three largest theater chains in the United States — Regal, AMC and Cinemark — decided not to screen the movie when it debuts Christmas Day.

“The economic impact of this cancellation is something which will make Hollywood filmmakers think twice before they make any similar film about various dictators, and it is also likely to trigger certain self-censorship mechanisms among script writers,” said Ole Reitov, Director of Freemuse.

“Clearly this sets an example for other anonymous groups to put a curb on artistic expression through threats. This opens the door for anyone to level a threat against artistic works that they don’t agree with or find distasteful,” Rachael Jolley, editor of Index on Censorship magazine said.

» Index on Censorship: A victory for opponents of free speech

Article 19 released a statement following Sony Pictures’ decision to cancel the release of The Interview, which, among other things, said:

“It is the artist’s role to challenge and provoke, sometimes in a way that may offend, but artistic expression must be protected. This decision will only encourage others to make anonymous threats to try and curb free speech and artistic expression.”
Article 19 statement, “The Interview” cancellation sets dangerous precedent for censorship

“Sony Pictures has tacitly sent the message that if a single actor is loud enough or intimidating enough in its opposition, it can be successful in getting its way. This concession on the studio’s part will only encourage future radicals to make the same sort of threats North Korea has, now with the assurance that they can prevail.”
Daniel Bendtsen in The Lantern

» The Lantern – 18 December 2014:
Opinion: Sony Pictures sets dangerous precedent for self-censorship

“When Islamic extremists directed threats were made against Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses, several leading publishing companies agreed to publish the book jointly in a show of solidarity against censorial threats. Although Rushdie had to live in hiding for several years, as the result fatwa issued against him by Iran’s supreme leader, freedom of speech prevailed and his book was published and widely read. In the Sony case, there was no such collective support. Nor did Sony itself do everything it could to strike a proper balance between caution and artistic freedom.”
Alan Dershowitz in Time Magazine

» Time – 18 December 2014:
Capitulating to Terrorists Will Only Make Things Worse
There are steps that can be taken both by our government and by the private sector to confront these attacks on our liberty

“…Much deeper questions are at play here. These have to do with freedom of artistic expression in an age of cyberwarfare, and how, in the face of intimidation, fundamental values risk being sacrificed to business interests.”
Editorial in The Guardian

» The Guardian – 19 December 2014:
Editorial: Cancelling the release of a film because of online intimidation sends out the wrong message

» The Guardian – 19 December 2014:
Christmas release of The Interview cancelled by Sony
Studio: ‘we have decided not to move forward with the planned release’. Move comes after five major cinema chains dropped film over terror threats

» The Associated Press | Fox Business – 17 December 2014:
What’s the creative fallout from the Sony scandal? Can Hollywood overcome self-censorship?
Sony’s decision to cancel “The Interview” in the face of terrorist threats is already affecting the way Hollywood does business, and it’s killing artists’ faith in studios to release envelope-pushing content.

» BBC News – 17 December 2014:
New York premiere of Sony film The Interview cancelled
The New York premiere of The Interview, a comedy about the assassination of North Korea’s president, has been cancelled amid threats from hackers.

» Variety – 17 December 2014:
Sony Cancels Theatrical Release for ‘The Interview’ on Christmas
With theater chains defecting en masse, Sony Pictures Entertainment has pulled the planned Christmas Day release of “The Interview.” U.S. officials have reportedly linked a massive cyber attack against Sony to North Korea, which is at the center of the Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy.

» Wikipedia, the open encyclopedia:
The Interview (2014 film)

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