In what can only be described as stupidity and cowardice, national theater chains including AMC, Regal, Cinemark, and Cineplex, and eventually Sony Pictures Entertainment have pulled the December 25th release of The Interview. For those who might not know, The Interview is a film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco that has them traveling to North Korea to interview Kim Jong Un, and are tasked to kill the leader. The country didn’t take the comedy too lightly, and instead North Korea (likely, it’s hard to verify) waged a cyber-war against Sony in retaliation.
That cyber attack proved an embarrassment for the American subsidiary of the Japanese conglomerate. Sensitive documents were released, and have been fodder for sites over the past week. That coverage of leaked documents, and the subsequent reaction (which we’ll get to), played right into the hackers hands. Really, the hack showed the continued ineptness of Sony to protect itself in a digital age. They’ve had numerous hacks, dozens of times, that have exposed user accounts, and more.
In the end, the hackers threatened a physical attacked reminiscent of 9/11 if The Interview wasn’t pulled from release. This led to major theaters to cancel the release of the movie. Those theaters account for 18,000 screens of the roughly 40,000 screens in North America. Other theaters stood strong and would have still released the film. Sony eventually completely caved, and as of this post they were unsure if they’ll ever release the film, even on demand (I’d expect a torrent any day now).
The hacks, and even threat, are an example of cyberbullying taken to extreme, and by caving to demands, that bullying has shown to work. It’s akin to attacks on female creators (which include physical and death threats) in the video game industry, and have gotten some women to quit the industry. Its happened to comic creators and critics by those who disagree with what they have to say. It continues because it’s perceived to work.
What the pulling of the film does is encourage more of the behavior in the future, especially from the North Korean regime. The country has been building a cyber force that supposedly comprises 1,800 individuals. The cancellation of the film by theaters wasn’t likely out of safety concerns for movie goers (North Korea doesn’t likely have the ability to act on their physical threats), it’s more likely theaters are looking out for their own necks, and fear a cyberattack on their own systems, and what would come to light if it happened and documents were released. Documents that have been released showed Sony (and other film companies) conspiring against Google, and really consumers, in the battle over piracy. A battle ironically where Sony, the MPAA, RIAA, and other content producers use similar bullying tactics as were just used against Sony. They’ve also bad mouthed their own films, actors, and the direction of the subsidiary. Imagine what would be revealed about movie theater chains if a similar event would occur?
The caving to the threats, and the embarrassment, have already had a chilling effect.
A planned adaptation of Guy DeLisle‘s Pyongyang by New Regency has been pulled. That film was to star Steve Carrell and be directed by Gore Verbinski with a script by Steve Conrad. The film has been described as a “paranoid thriller,” which has me a bit worried about what it might have been, when in reality DeLisle’s story is more like Lost in Translation. Luckily you can still purchase the brilliant graphic novel. What’s to say a threat and attack isn’t in Amazon’s future to stop the sale of the book though?
Paramount has barred theaters from showing Team America in protest of the cancellation of The Interview.
12 people were killed and more shot, plus numerous other incidences, during the opening week of The Dark Knight Rises, that film was kept in theaters. The Warriors opened in 1979, and lead to vandalism and killings, and only had security added to theaters, and continued to show.
Cyber threats which couldn’t be corroborated, and experts have dismissed the capabilities, are more than enough to stop this film, and more. Where actual physical proof of probable violence existed, a film wasn’t pulled. Think this is about our “safety” or that of protecting the theaters’ digital secrets?
In the coming weeks, and months, this most likely will increase the call for needed cyber legislation, most of which will be draconian, hurt civil liberties, and punish the consumer. Legislation like CISPA, SOPA, or PIPA, will be rammed through like undead zombies infecting and destroying the world before we notice and it’s too late. The attacks also have done more to promote a film which likely have done just ok in a theater (and built up a buzz that it’d be crazy to not release it digitally and capitalize on the hoopla).
This isn’t the first time a hack has led to company secrets being stolen. This isn’t the first time intellectual property has been stolen. The difference here is, that demands were met, and corporations caved to threats. They’ve shown this sort of bullying works, is easy, and effective. It encourages it to be done in the future, creating a chilling censoring effect.
This isn’t the first time issues over a movie and North Korea have come up. In 2002, Bond film Die Another Day depicted a North Korean villain which resulted in the country going on a PR offensive (instead of a cyber one). With these latest threats, the country moves closer to being a real life Bond villain.
Similar issues arose in 2004 of Team America: World Police, and in 2012 and 2013 things changed up a bit with the release of Red Dawn and Olympus Has Fallen. Both of those films featured North Korean terrorists. Those two films, the country used footage for their own propaganda to show off their military prowess.
It’s all ironic since former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was an avid fan of the James Bond franchise (and movies in general). Jong Il was so obsessed with films he kidnapped Japanese and South Korean actors and directors to star in movies he some times wrote himself.