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Sony’s Pulling Of ‘The Interview’ Doesn’t Symbolize The Death Of Artistic Expression

Late yesterday afternoon, Sony made the surprising and bold decision to completely scrap any plans to release The Interview, the James Franco and Seth Rogen-starring comedy (co-directed by Rogen and his comedy partner, Evan Goldberg) following weeks of cyberattacks from a shadowy group known as the Guardians of Peace, who leaked internal Sony emails to the press and threatened 9/11-style attacks on theaters that planned to show the film upon its Christmas Day premiere date.

Following the cancellation of both the New York City premiere and Rogen and Franco’s press appearances, major theater chains — including Regal and AMC — opted not to screen the film. Even distribution companies supplying the film to smaller independent cinemas had pulled the film. Sony had two choices: scrap the film entirely, or release the film digitally on VOD platforms, as many (including me!) expected the company to do.

Sony decided to cancel the film’s release completely, and it won’t see a VOD or a home video release. The raunchy comedy full of dick and fart jokes that happened to have a controversial premise — two American entertainment newsmen go to North Korea to assassinate Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un — is now at the center of a major debate about the freedom of expression and cowering before terrorist attacks.

Plenty of people have expressed outrage that Sony cancelled the release, from everyday folks like you and me to A-list names who feel threatened by the company’s decision.

Now, is all of this a threat to the American ideal of free speech? Or is it actually a case that proves the importance of that other tenant of American society: capitalism?

This whole thing, like most things, is really about money. The owners of the major movie theater chains were threatened, certainly, by the irrational fear that the Guardians of Peace created among their customers. Let’s be honest: it doesn’t matter how serious a threat of terrorism is, as Americans generally don’t take lightly to such a threat in the first place. If there were any sense that people would be too afraid to go to a movie theater next week, those who run movie theaters had every right to choose not to screen The Interview. After all, the average theater that would show the film would also show a lot more — ranging from family-friendly flicks to the more serious Oscar hopefuls. It’s not just about people being nervous and cautious about seeing The Interview — it’s about people being nervous and cautious about going to the multiplex, period.

That presented a major threat to those theaters’ bottom line, especially over a holiday weekend when families go to see movies in droves.

You might be wondering, why cancel the film entirely? Surely the executives at Sony care about freedom of speech and artistic expression as much as you and I do, and definitely as much as their top performers and creatives like Rogen, Franco, and Judd Apatow. Well, again, it comes down to money.

The Interview could have been a major VOD release, if only Sony had taken the chance to be the first major studio to premiere a big film in such a manner. It would have set a much bigger, and better precedent than the one they went with — “cowering,” as many have suggested, in the face of a terrorist threat. So why didn’t they?

Easy: the movie business isn’t about taking chances, especially when money is guaranteed elsewhere. And I think that can be summed up completely with this tweet from The Hollywood Reporter‘s Matthew Belloni:

If Belloni’s suggestion is true, it means Sony won’t be losing any money after all. So much for art for art’s sake.

The film industry is not about art, let’s be honest about that. It’s about making money by selling a product to the most people possible. No one lost anything here. Art will still triumph, as will commerce. It’s difficult for me not to see this whole brouhaha as a red herring, something that makes it very easy to pull out the pretty silly and oft-repeated adage about the terrorists finally winning. Did the terrorists win? Maybe. But at the end of the day, so did Sony.

 

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Photos: Everett Collection

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