The massive computer breach at Sony Pictures Entertainment over the satire ‘The Interview’ – allegedly the work of North Korean hackers – has become a major war of words over freedom of expression as well as security issues involving the Internet and terrorist threats.
All of this over a goofy Hollywood satire based on a ridiculous premise.
In his end-of-year press conference Friday, President Obama said Sony made a mistake in not releasing “The Interview” as scheduled.
“We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” Obama said. “Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or news reports that they don’t like. Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.”
Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton was quick to defend the embattled company.
“We have not caved. We have not given up,” he said on CNN. “We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie.”
“The unfortunate part is in this instance the President, the press, and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened,” Mr. Lynton said. “When it came to the crucial moment … the movie theaters came to us one by one over the course of a very short period of time. We were completely surprised by it.”
He was referring to announcements this week by five major theater chains that they would not be showing “The Interview” for fear of a 9/11-type terrorist attack as threatened by the hackers now identified by the FBI as connected to the North Korean regime.
Sony said in a statement Friday that its decision to cancel the film’s release was only about Christmas Day.
“After that decision, we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform,” the studio said. “It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so.”
That seemed to be a reversal of the earlier statement by a Sony spokeswoman that the company “has no further release plans for the film.”
Hollywood personalities have been quick to weigh in.
“This week, the distributors who wouldn't show ‘The Interview’ and Sony have sent [Islamic extremists] a commanding invitation,” Penn said. “I believe ISIS will accept the invitation. Pandora's box is officially open.”
In an interview with the trade site Deadline, fellow actor George Clooney urged Sony to "do whatever you can to get this movie out. Not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I'm not going to be told we can't see the movie. That's the most important part."
Psychiatrist, TV personality, and radio talk show host Carole Lieberman, who’s frequently quoted on film industry figures and issues, wrote that “To cower is to ‘greenlight’ future hack and terrorist attacks.”
“Although making the movie may have been a bad idea, it is an even worse idea to pull the movie from theaters and let the terrorists win!” Dr. Lieberman writes at thecelebritycafe.com. “We are now being seen as a cowering nation and terrorists from North Korea to the Middle East are laughing – and probably spoofing – us.”
In her online op-ed “Hollywood on the Couch,” Lieberman says Sony could release the film on DVD or via the Internet, suggesting that viewers make a donation to a charity or counter-terrorism organization.
Mitt Romney tweeted the same idea, suggesting that film viewers contribute $5 to fight Ebola.
Meanwhile, North Korea denies that it’s behind the cyber attack on Sony – sort of.
"There is not any connection," U.N. diplomat Kim Song told The Associated Press.
Mr. Song criticized the film but disputed his government hacked Sony and orchestrated the movie's shutdown: "It defamed the image of our country. It made a mockery of our sovereignty. We reject it. But there is no relation" to the hacking.