Following the cancellation of The Interview last week, there is already a second casualty of Hollywood’s new deference to Kim Jong-un’s sensibilities: a movie based on Guy Delisle’s graphic novel Pyongyang that was to begin filming in March. The production was cancelled last week after 20th Century Fox pulled out of a distribution deal and film studio New Regency opted not to seek another distributor.
Delisle, a Québécois artist and animator, based the graphic memoir on the surreal two months he spent working in a North Korean animation studio. The movie would have starred Steve Carell and had been described as “a paranoid thriller.” Since the book is set in 2001, well before Kim Jong-il’s death, his son the current dictator presumably would not have featured at all — but apparently any association with the Hermit Kingdom is now enough to send Hollywood running for cover. As Wired UK points out, the average production takes two years from start of filming to release, and it is highly unlikely that the tensions raised by The Interview will be at the same level two years hence.
On his blog, Delisle said he sold the film rights to Pyongyang about two years ago and didn’t hear much about the production’s progress until just this month when it was announced that Carell was lined up for the lead role. But only a few weeks later, the entire production was scrapped in the midst of vague threats from hackers to movie theaters that planned to show The Interview. Delisle said he was disappointed that New Regency and Fox abandoned the project so easily, observing that “apparently [the hackers] hit a sensitive nerve.”
Incidentally, Delisle says he also got pushback from the Canadian animation studio that sent him to North Korea when he told them he was writing the book. He thought they would be interested to see some of the panels he produced early on, but instead they claimed that a confidentiality clause in his contract prevented him from publishing anything about his time overseas. In that case, however, he got full support from the book’s publisher L’Association; after searching through Delisle’s animation contract and finding no confidentiality clause, L’Association director Jean-Christophe Menu told him, “too bad if we end up in court, it’s a book we have to do.” Perhaps Hollywood could use some tips on free expression from the publishing world.
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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.