Movies have a time-honored tradition of waving giant middle fingers to any body that might seek to censor or silence artistic expression. It's so common in movies to be anti-censorship that we roll our eyes if a filmmaker gets too worked up about it. Yes, we all agree censorship is bad, now please get on with the story.
That's why it's so surprising and so depressing to see how fragile that sentiment really is now that Sony has canceled The Interview's release after five major theater chains decided not to screen it. The decision comes on the heels of a threat from the Guardians of Peace (GOP), the hacker group thought to have ties to the North Korean government. The group directly threatened any theater daring to screen the movie in a new statement (full text below). "The world will be full of fear," it reads. "Remember the 11th of September 2001." And the theater chains caved in less than 24 hours.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, by Wednesday morning, Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment, Cinemark, Carmike Cinemas and Cineplex Entertainment all decided not to show the film.
"Due to the wavering support of the film The Interview by Sony Pictures, as well as the ambiguous nature of any real or perceived security threats, Regal Entertainment Group has decided to delay the opening of the film in our theatres," Regal said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Theater Owners (the other NATO) seems to be encouraging theaters not to show The Interview, at least not on its scheduled Christmas Day release date. They issued a statement saying "individual cinema operators may decide to delay exhibition of the movie so that our guests may enjoy a safe holiday movie season experiencing the many other exciting films we have to offer."
So Regal and NATO are both on the same page. Keep theater-goers safe from terrorist attacks by not showing a movie someone doesn't like. Which all amounts to North Korea winning this round. Then Wednesday afternoon, Sony made it official (full statement below). The release is canceled.
"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," reads the statement. "We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome."
The correct response from theater chains — the response I honestly expected for some weird reason — would have been a series of defiant, flag-waving official statements that invoked the First Amendment, and cinema's long history of supporting free speech.
Now we don't know when we'll get to see The Interview, but we do know seeing it will be an act of defiance, and we're hoping that sometime in the not-too-distant future we'll get to see it screened alongside something like The Great Dictator or Team America: World Police.
Following is the full text of the threat from Guardians of Peace, which was attached to the latest hacker dump it posted to file-sharing sites:
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."
Sony's Full Response
"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."