Last night, in reaction to threats of 9/11-like retaliation, Sony Pictures officially abandoned all plans to release The Interview, a film in which James Franco and Seth Rogen play a TV personality and producer, respectively, who are enlisted by the CIA to attempt an assassination on Kim Jong Un, the real-life leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
From their press statement:
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… Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale – all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.
Filmgoers everywhere were outraged. Press screenings were cancelled with critics right outside the theater. They were pissed:
MY PRESS SCREENING FOR THE INTERVIEW WAS JUST CANCELED AND I AM OUTSIDE THE THEATRE NOW! I AM PISSED! @SonyPictures
— Mike Messina (@mikethefilmguy) December 17, 2014
Like those fans and critics, I am outraged. This is indignant, embarrassing, the sort of censorship that once would have been seemingly inconceivable. The terrorists won this one! I’m mad as hell, I know that much. But I can’t figure out at whom this anger is directed or who I’m standing behind in support. So I’m going to lay this out as I can understand it best– in movie metaphor. Feel free to correct me. I’m up for conversation. I’m up for being called names and insulted. Whatever it takes for me to gather understanding. Education ain’t free.
That said let’s break this down by each involved party.
Seth Rogen/James Franco/Evan Goldberg
I had stoner roommates in college who would regularly stumble around, spaced out and dumb, reach into the fridge, and just eat my leftover Arby’s. “Oh, man,” they’d say when I caught them. “I didn’t know that was yours.” Like that was a legitimate excuse! Yes, you did, motherfuckers, because you do understand the basic rules of Western commerce. What I’m saying is… stoner ignorance is not a defense in any case.
So let’s bring it back.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg worked together on the writing and direction of this movie. Rogen and James Franco paired up to star in the film. This has been, from the beginning, the brainchild of this flock of adopted Apatow children. Now, they’re going to sink into the background and offer their apathetic slacker shrugs and hide their involvement and intelligence in snide tweets, chuckling interview responses, and passive-aggressive comedy. But let’s not etch them into movie history books as involuntary, clean-handed revolutionaries, yet.
Goldberg, Franco, and Rogen aren’t of the brand of dumb comedy that comes from a dumb place. I say that as a fan of most of their work, both in the comedic and dramatic circles. There’s a skilled hyper-awareness in this team. And I’d wager that, in writing sessions, the hardest laughs came not at the jokes that were written into the script, but at the imagined hypothetical reactions from Kim Jong Un. This incident is exactly the joke that they planned for.
Casting: Too accountable to be victims, too useless to be heroes. Rather, the bumbling jesters whose idiocy sparks the conflict long after their comedy wears off.
Kim Jong Un
There isn’t much consideration that needs to be given here. Kim Jong Un’s reputation as an absurd megalomaniac dictator is well documented, as is his oppressive treatment of his people and his cold, murderous approach to dealing with anyone who challenges his ego. We know what his role is, but his position within the story helps us understand how responsibility must be distributed amongst the other characters.
Casting: Villain. Super-Villain. The kind of Super-Villain perfectly suited to get what’s coming to him in a Hollywood fi- oh… shit.
This gets a little slippery. The hackers that leaked the Sony e-mails exposed the only known, non-speculative real problems in this event. While much will be said about the “dangerous precedent” set by Sony’s submission to terrorist threats, there’s no real way to measure any potential ripple effect or after shock. Who knows if other terrorist entities will now be inspired to push for censorship in our culture? But racist decision making, sexist hiring practices, and gender economic inequity are ethical issues damaging our current culture here and now, and that’s what the hackers exposed. But still. They accessed the information in an illegal manner and every average citizen should be concerned about this sort of large scale electronic vulnerability.
Casting: Antiheroes. Have you seen the most recent version of 3:10 to Yuma? Think about Russell Crowe’s character Ben Wade gunning down his ruthless gang in the film’s closing moments. Yeah, his posture and position amongst the bodies suggests that he is an arbiter of justice and the dead scumbags deserved to be gunned down, but it’s still Wade’s criminal actions that started the mess and he deserves, at the least, to be on his way to face some form of justice by trial. Just watch 3:10 to Yuma. You’ll see what I mean.
Imagine you own a toy store and one day a truck full of whoopie cushions shows up. Nothing particularly special about them, just whoopie cushions. An old favorite joke amongst toddlers and ornery juveniles. Your advisers have told you that this particular whoopie cushion product has the potential to boost profits somewhere between .002 and .018 percent for the year. Nothing that’s going to expedite your retirement plan. Then, you receive a note from a local gang saying that if you put this toy on your shelves, there’s a chance that criminals might attack and kill some of your customers. This note has also been leaked to the newspapers, so everyone knows you’ve been warned. The town knows how much this gang likes to puff its chest, but there is a .0004 chance they might actually go through with it. Is it worth it to put this product on your shelf when you measure the miniscule risk/miniscule reward factor?
It was never the job of the theaters to make this stand.
Casting: Uncredited extras making consequential decisions.
I’m bored with the plot. Let’s spice it up.
Lexi Alexander is the director of Green Street Hooligans and Punisher: War Zone. According to her IMDb page, Alexander is a former World Karate and Kickboxing champion and recently, she’s brought her tough-as-nails fearlessness to Twitter to fight against the industry status quo. She is intelligent, bold, militant, and presents perspective on the Sony hack worth paying attention to.
She has some interesting ideas about film piracy that will raise an eyebrow (lexi-alexander.com).
She has some interesting theories about North Korean involvement in the Sony hack.
If I was writing this script and my objective is to make Sony the least blamable victim…who would I choose as antagonist…hmmmm
— Lexi Alexander (@Lexialex) December 17, 2014
People don’t want to understand that death threats wouldn’t have mattered on a film that was tracking better. Try to see through the fog. — Lexi Alexander (@Lexialex) December 17, 2014
— Lexi Alexander (@Lexialex) December 17, 2014
Theater chains wouldn't have dropped The Hobbit with that per screen average even if DHS had announced the threat is credible. You know it.
— Lexi Alexander (@Lexialex) December 17, 2014
Follow Alexander long enough on Twitter and you’ll get a sense of revolutionary determination, a brave self-assuredness against her own industry, and you’ll quickly see that she’s not looking for discourse, she’s ready for change. And the incident with The Interview has sure given her an interesting platform.
Casting: Wildcard. Every thriller needs one.
Kind of bold that the Sony press release is colored in language that paints the company as a victim. A bit presumptuous given the findings of the e-mail hack. Sure, in the most by-the-book sense, they are victims, but if local teens broke into the mayor’s house and found a Grand Wizard robe, I don’t think the public would respond with, “Well, those teens shouldn’t have been in there.” The knee-jerk reactionary nature of the internet leads us to believe that we have to take one side and stand against another; it’s okay to call into question victims of any crime if in the course of the initial crime, an equal or greater ethical indiscretion is revealed. We’re thinking creatures. We can compartmentalize our understanding of inter-related situations and distribute judgment accordingly.
But I digress. Let’s focus on the situation with The Interview.
When Sony bought the rights to this script, it wasn’t a blind purchase. Plenty of meetings were held to discuss potential after-release fallout and again, as was the case with the story-boarding and script-writing process of Rogen and Goldberg, this specific situation was foreseen. I’d double down that as many words were exchanged on the potential of fallout to contribute indirectly to market value and box office intake. (“No press is bad press,” some rich old man probably shrugged.) Well, turns out, the folks in those meetings overestimated their own greed when they disguised it as courage.
Yesterday, they proved themselves to be anything but courageous.
I said earlier that it was never the job of the theaters to make this stand. After Sony paid for this script, it was 100 percent their job to see this through. If sanctity of film quality and artistic expression mattered, their commitment would have been unbreakable. The Interview is probably bad satire, but it is satire, and it falls under the umbrella of art. Yesterday, what the film-concerned public saw as a cowardly decision with dangerous implications was really just scared executives attempting to cauterize the hemorrhaging damage to their brand. What we measure in social consequence, they measured in dollars and that’s a unit of measurement that should not be applied that late in the game when the potential consequences were known from the start.
Again, maybe the immediate concerns about a “dangerous precedent” are a bit dramatic; it’s equally likely that other terrorist entities won’t concern themselves with our film releases. But that’s a concern that’s been dropped into the laps of American movie lovers while the executives responsible for this conflict scuttle back to the conference rooms to measure their losses, possibly allowing a dictator who can’t even keep his lights on after dark to score a symbolic victory against America.
Casting: Sleazy, lugheaded, turncoat henchman.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) December 18, 2014
Casting: Um… hero? What the hell…