It’s so surreal as to be ripe for satire. Over the past few weeks, Sony Pictures Entertainment has been under attack by a group of cyber-terrorists dubbed “Guardians of Peace,” who have breached Sony’s company servers and released nine caches of internal company documents, ranging from the private email correspondences of top-level executives to the Social Security numbers and personal information of employees.
The reason, the group posted online, was to, “Stop immediately showing the movie of terrorism which can break the regional peace and cause the War.” The North Korea government has, meanwhile, denied responsibility for the cyber-attacks, but The New York Times reported Wednesday evening that American intelligence officials have concluded the North Korean government was "centrally involved" in the Sony cyber-attacks.
That film is The Interview, a satire depicting the assassination of North Korean despot Kim Jong Un by a TV host and his producer, played by the comedy duo of James Franco and Seth Rogen (who also co-directed the film with creative partner Evan Goldberg).
Now, in the wake of further threats, and the decision of the five major movie theater chains to yank The Interview from their screens, Sony has finally thrown in the towel and decided to pull the movie off its planned Christmas release date.
Here is the company’s full 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. We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.
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.”
The pressure seemed to mount yesterday, when the cyber-terrorist group released the emails of Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, along with a stern warning:
“We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places ‘The Interview’ be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to. Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)
Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment. All the world will denounce the SONY.”
What followed was a very strange and discouraging series of events. Landmark Theatres canceled the threatened film premiere, planned for Thursday at New York’s Sunshine Cinema, and Carmike Cinemas, which operates 278 movie theaters in 41 states, announced it was pulling The Interview as well. A well-placed source at Sony then told Deadline that the studio is “leaving it up to the discretion of the theater owners and chains” as to whether or not they’ll carry the film, which led to the major theater chains AMC, Regal, Cinemark, and Cineplex announcing they would not exhibit the film.
Rogen’s pal, Judd Apatow, as well as Jimmy Kimmel put the theater chains on blast for their cowardly decision:
Sony, of course, passed the buck onto the theater chains by leaving it up to their discretion, while the theater chains then buckled under the pressure and caved in to the demands of the cyber-terrorists—despite the fact that the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement saying, “At this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States.”
Since the DHS and other intelligence organizations have determined that there is no active terrorist plot against movie theaters, the decision by theater chains to pull The Interview seems to be one of spinelessness; giving in to the demands of cyber-terrorists not because there is an actual credible threat in place to inflict violence on cinemas and cinemagoers, but rather out of concern that their own systems might be hacked by the Guardians of Peace for exhibiting the film. The biggest "fuck you" to these pansy hackers would be for Sony to release The Interview on VOD for $20 a pop, thereby ensuring that the American people won't be accomplices in gutlessness.
The notion that theater chains, along with a major motion picture studio, would give in to the demands of cyber-terrorists sets an alarming—and heretofore unforeseen—precedent. A group of hackers can now effectively shut down entire film releases that have taken years of planning and hard work by the studio employees, filmmakers, and thousands of crewmembers by displaying their might via hacking, and then releasing a vague threat.And this isn’t the same as The Manchurian Candidate being postponed in the wake of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, or the roughly 45 films in production that were edited or postponed due to the 9/11 attacks in order to digitally remove shots of The World Trade Center out of respect for the victims. This is the film industry being directly threatened by a mysterious group of hackers and, despite no credible threat of violence, bending at their will.
The United States government has a longstanding policy of not negotiating with terrorists. Hollywood, it seems, doesn’t feel the same way.