The interview started out as the type of film that I would watch if there was nothing better to see, and not one I would rush to see on the day it came out. For those who live under a stone, here is the synopsis from IMDB:
Dave Skylark and producer Aaron Rapoport run the celebrity tabloid show “Skylark Tonight.” When they land an interview with a surprise fan, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, they are recruited by the CIA to turn their trip to Pyongyang into an assassination mission.
The funny thing, the population of North Korea are probably unaware of the film or the fuss it is causing . A brief overview, also courtesy of IMDB
On June 25, 2014, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency condemned the film (without naming it), promising a “merciless” retaliation if the film is released. “Making and releasing a film on a plot to hurt our top-level leadership is the most blatant act of terrorism and war and will absolutely not be tolerated,” KCNA said, citing a government spokesman.”
Then last month, the computer systems at Sony Pictures was hacked and information regarding The Interview and other films were made available online. Soon after this a rumour started that the North Korean government was responsible for the hack in response to the films plot to kill Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader. Then earlier this week, a group calling themselves GOP (Guardians of Peace) claimed responsibility and threatened attacks against theatres/cinemas who show the film. As various cinema chains pulled the film, Sony announced that the Christmas day release had been cancelled.
As things all unfolded on Friday some people were quick to suggest that Sony had used the attack as a convenient excuse to pull the film and claim on the insurance. The suggestion being that the insurance payout would be greeter than the films likely box-office return. I am cynical enough to believe this is a possibility but don’t even know if the studio is in fact insured against such eventualities. Another theory that is just as likely is that they plan to release the film at a later date using the publicity to drum up some interest in a film that I am led to believe has not been well received by test audiences. One person who has made it clear that Sony “made a mistake” in cancelling the film is US President Barack Obama, he was quick to speak out against the decision, stating
“We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States”.
In a interview with CNN Sony’s CEO Michael Lynton seems now to have made something of a U-turn, suggesting they only pulled the release because no one would show the film, and that they would show it somehow in future. At the same time North Korea’s foreign ministry accused the US of “spreading groundless allegations”, and has suggested joint inquiry to refute them.
So where does all this leave us? The first thing that comes to mind is where all this started. A comedy film about the assassination of a real life world leader is in bad taste at best, but then comedy is often about pushing to the limit of what is acceptable. Having not seen the film, I don’t know what the outcome or tone of it is. Sorry for spoiling a 40 year old plot, but if I can refer to The Day of the Jackal (1973). Had the plot to kill Charles de Gaulle been successful, it would have been a very different story. The context of the interview is important, if the trailer and plot synopsis are to be believed The CIA are the antagonists of the plot. As viewed by a country who fiercely entertainment output it would be easy for a North Korean to see the film as coming from the American government and not a film studio. The voice of reason in all this seems to have come from George Clooney in an interview with Deadline,
“The South Park guys did it. They blew up his father’s head. The truth of the matter is, of course you should be able to make any movie you want. And, you should take the ramifications for it. Meaning, people can boycott the movie and not go see your film. They can say they’ll never see a Sony movie again. That’s all fine. That’s the risk you take for the decision you make. But to say we’re going to make you pull it. We’re going to censor you. That’s a whole other game. That is playing in some serious waters and it’s a very dangerous pool.”
Clooney had previously attempted without much success to start a petition to get the film screened. Putting all this aside, the response whether perpetrated by the North Korean or a twelve year old in his bedroom is terrorism. While not as devastating as real world terrorism, cyber terrorism is equally as unacceptable, and as we become ever more reliant on the internet, the line between terrorism and cyber terrorism may disappear very soon. And that is where I believe Barack Obama’s fears lie, have Sony opened the doors and encouraged other cyber attacks?
To return to the title of this article, can free speech survive cyber terrorism? As I alluded to above attack has come from a country that has no freedom of speech and whose population is probably unaware of both the film and the fuss it is causing. The irony doesn’t stop there, the internet is probably the greatest advance in freedom of speech since the Caxton Press over 500 years ago, and yet in this instance it is the weapon used to prevent freedom of speech. The fact that people like Obama are beginning to speak out and Sony don’t have to stand alone in this situation is a glimmer of hope for freedom. You then have the old adage “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”, I am now more interested in seeing the film based on fuss that it has caused than for artistic reasons. This, as well as the millions of smaller voices that populate the internet is why I believe free speech can survive cyber terrorism.