When hackers stole tons of information from Sony it wasn’t all that surprising that studios would have to make adjustments. It’s difficult for many in the film community to fathom why a film would be censored outright by the studio that made it because of the demands of terrorists. We find ourselves in a strange new reality. The announcement that The Interview was being dropped by major theaters across the country was made worse when Sony decided not to release the film altogether over threats from hackers saying they would blow up theaters that showed the film.
People who claim that there is a precedent for this kind of action on the part of theaters and Sony Pictures are just flat out wrong in their analysis of the situation. It’s true that in the wake of 9/11 some films were altered, but they were done so in order to not offend audiences not because terrorists threatened to bomb movie theaters that showed certain films. There’s a reason that the United States government does not negotiate with terrorists. The sad new precedent that Hollywood has set today is that the film industry has no problem negotiating with terrorists. Let’s be honest here: the Interview is probably a really dumb movie that is maybe mildly entertaining in parts, but because it is being censored this will now be a $100 million movie.
What people in the creative community have understood throughout this process is that showing The Interview was a matter of principle for free speech, creativity in art and for the freedom of artists everywhere. The truth is that by agreeing not to show the film in theaters Sony is telling artists that if they make a product that comes under attack they don’t have their backs. This is a terrible precedent to set and one that, if left uncorrected, will continue to spell the demise of the studio system as a viable artistic enterprise. There is a reason that artists are venturing into indie-film. Their reasoning is the same as ours: studios have no interest in art and only support you insofar as their bottom line is concerned. The reason that companies like ours are fighting against the blatant discrimination of artists and artistic vision is because we believe in transparency and that keeping your word still matters.
One of the biggest concerns that artists have right now is that general audiences don’t understand or worse – don’t care about the effect that censorship will have on artistic mediums going forward. There is a crisis in the film industry as we speak about race, gender and how they are portrayed on film as well as how few women and minorities are actually given jobs in the industry itself. The lack of diverse voices in film is as devastating as having no voice at all. We ought to censor ourselves if we’re not willing to listen to the opinions of others and if we are not going to fight for the right for everyone to express themselves creatively then we might as well not fight at all. The lack of ownership that the industry has shown on issues of diversity has only been worsened by it’s own impotency in fighting hackers and terrorist threats.
We find ourselves at a moral crossroads in the film industry. It might not seem like a big deal that some comedy ripping Kim Jung whatever has been censored, but as we saw during the McCarthy era censorship in any form can be lethal. When we decided to leave the commercial film industry and the studio system of infirmity we knew it would be tough to make it on our own. We also knew however that to stand by as an industry destroyed artistic expression in America was tantamount to moral treason. Sony may not believe in it’s ideas or it’s artists, but we continue to fight for the rights of artists to express themselves and for the artistic way of life that has flourished for centuries. It is impossible to imagine a world in which Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator gets censored in the same way Neville Chamberlin did and as Americans we should not sit idly by as one of the largest studios in America decides that it will be dictated to by a bunch of hackers.