| Valerie Hamilton |
LOS ANGELES (dpa) – From Hollywood to Washington and around the world, North Korea’s attack on Sony Pictures and threats against movie audiences for its film The Interview have been roundly condemned.
The Motion Picture Association of America called the attack a “despicable, criminal act” and Secretary of State John Kerry said it showed the rogue nation’s “flagrant disregard for international norms”.
North Korean hackers brought Sony Pictures to its knees in recent weeks, raiding its servers, leaking sensitive data and threatening terror attacks on audiences for the as-yet-unreleased film, which depicts the assassination of real-life leader Kim Jong Un.
Now, Sony is taking friendly fire too.
Critics have blasted its decision to cancel the film’s planned December 25 release, after US theatres dropped screenings in response to the threats. Many said capitulating to terrorist threats, cyber or otherwise, sets a dangerous precedent.
“I think they made a mistake,” US President Barack Obama said of Sony in a press conference Friday. “We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States.”
But Michael Lynton, chief executive of Sony Pictures’ parent company Sony Entertainment, said it couldn’t release The Interview if cinemas were too scared to show it.
“The movie theatres came to us one by one and announced that they would not show it,” he said in an interview with CNN Friday. “We had no alternative but to not proceed.”
Lynton said Sony wanted US audiences to see the film, and left open the possibility that it would release it at some later date. But he said even talks to put the film out as a video on demand (VOD) had so far found no takers.
“There has not been one major VOD distributor that has stepped forward and said they are willing to distribute this movie for us,” he said.
It wasn’t just cinemas and online distributors that were steering clear of the crosshairs.
Earlier this week, actor George Clooney circulated a petition to Hollywood studio chiefs supporting Sony Pictures’ right to free expression.
But, he recalled in an interview with entertainment news website Deadline.com, no one would sign it.
“Nobody stood up. Nobody took that stand,” he said. “This is just how scared this industry has been made.”
Clooney said the attack on Sony might also scare other studios away from projects they fear could provoke retaliation.
“I’m concerned that content now is constantly going to be judged on a different level. And that’s a terrible thing to do,” he said.
At some level, it had already begun. After the threats, New Regency films abruptly cancelled a planned film set in North Korea, according to Deadline.com, and Paramount Pictures scrapped scheduled screenings of its 2005 comedy Team America World Police, which ridiculed Kim’s father Kim Jong Il.
“Kim Jong Un is now officially the most powerful man in Hollywood,” Hollywood writer and producer Seth Grahame-Smith wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
Bruce Bennett, a senior defence analyst with the RAND Corporation, told dpa that unless the US presented a strong deterrent, more attacks like this were likely.
“If something isn’t done here, this is not the last attack that is going to occur. And North Korea isn’t the only potential attacker,” he said.
For now, the question remained if audiences will ever see The Interview – or if North Korea would get its way.
Hackers continue to hold the rest of Sony’s stolen data for ransom, saying in a message to company executives seen by CNN that the leaks will stop as long as the film isn’t shown.
So far, there are no plans to show it.
“Somehow, we have allowed North Korea to dictate content, and that is just insane,” said Clooney, according to the report.
At the White House, Obama said the success of North Korea’s move to quash the film could be a slippery slope.
“If somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary they don’t like, or news reports that they don’t like,” he said.
But when asked by journalists if he planned to see The Interview, or screen it at the White House in a show of support, he demurred.
“I’ve got a long list of movies I’m going to be watching,” he said.