Did ‘The Interview’ Really Deserve All That Controversy?

Above: James Franco and Seth Rogen in 'The Interview'

It has been a couple weeks since Sony released the James Franco, Seth Rogen comedy, The Interview as a digital download. That has probably given you and everyone you know sufficient time to watch it, if only to say that you have watched it. To most people, it is a moderately funny political satire that has its moments. But the controversy surrounding The Interview that almost sucked the film into a black hole of illegal screenings and bootleg copies has guaranteed the film a place in history. Ultimately, to a lot of people, it is just a movie. But clearly the leaders of North Korea beg to differ, and they did an impressive job of letting the world know it.

It started in November with the Sony email leak scandal. Thousands of private emails between producers, directors, and actors were leaked for the entire world to read. They included lots of trash talking, details about deals between Hollywood power players, and possible casting decisions. We got to see how top Sony producers Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin really feel about stars like Angelina Jolie, and even President Obama. Embarrassing, sure. But not really much more than gossip to fuel entertainment websites for the next few months.

That is until a group called “The Guardians of Peace” took responsibility for the hack, calling it a warning to not only Sony, but the United States as a whole, regarding the Christmas Day release of The Interview. They demanded that Sony cancel the release of what they called “the film of terrorism.” Turns out that in June 2014, the North Korean government threatened “merciless” action against the United States if Columbia Pictures (owned by Sony) went ahead with the release. The Guardians of Peace then threatened terrorist attacks against any movie theatre that played the film. So, Sony canceled the release.

Taking terrorist threats seriously is a necessity these days, but after the decision, the media, and even Barrack Obama criticized Sony for giving into extortion, disregarding freedom of speech. Obama said he believed Sony had “made a mistake. We cannot have a society in which some dictator in some place can start imposing censorship in the United States. I wish they’d spoken to me first. I would have told them: do not get into the pattern in which you are intimidated.”

Sony insisted they had cancelled the release because of theatres reluctancy to show the film, and they would find other ways to distribute the film, which they did. The Interview has made $31 million in digital rentals and sales, as well as $5 million from its limited theatrical release. Not bad for a movie that was almost stonewalled by North Korea.

So, after all that, is the film worth the drama? Depends on who you are asking. To most of us, it passes a couple hours, offers a few laughs, and then we’ll forget about it. The film is definitely worth a watch. It could also lead to more awareness of the situation in North Korea, just because people will Google Kim Jong-Un. And let’s face it, Seth Rogen and James Franco make a hilarious team at times.

But we have to remember that the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un, is a real, living political figure. While the film is clearly meant to be a joke, it isn’t really that far-fetched that as a leader, Jong-Un would want to keep a film about his own assassination away from his country. Why give people ideas, right? North Korea’s leadership is notoriously strict, and intent on keeping the population isolated, ignorant of human rights, and treating its leadership like Gods among men. The film clearly shows a side of the leadership that they don’t want revealed, even if it is just supposed to be a “joke”.

One human rights group in North Korea, Fighters for a Free North Korea, who previously air-dropped copies of the Korean Wikipedia into North Korea on a bootable USB memory device, plans to distribute DVD copies of The Interview via balloon drops. It is not overly surprising that the North Korean leadership was willing to do anything to stop that from happening.

The whole controversy has ended up coming across as a kind of real life political satire all on its own. In North America we can’t imagine such censorship and extreme measures in order to stop the release of a single movie. And a Seth Rogen movie at that. But in North Korea, that is the reality. The general public is kept ignorant of so many things, that this movie really hit a nerve.

Should the movie be considered a form of terrorism? Maybe not to us, but to North Korea, it is. Unfortunately for them, the way they went about preventing its release only served as more entertainment, anticipation, and excitement about seeing the film for most people. We don’t live in a country where simply watching a controversial movie could lead to arrest, imprisonment, and even death, and for that we are lucky. For us, censorship is something we can actually protest. For North Koreans, it isn’t.

Tags: Angelina Jolie

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