As everyone surely knows by now, the film industry this week suffered a blow to free expression when Sony decided to cancel the Christmas Day opening of the comedy The Interview, after hackers with suspected links to North Korea threatened attacks on movie theaters due to the film’s depiction of a plot to kill dictator Kim Jong-un.
But the blame does not rest only with Sony; in fact, the studio’s decision was prompted by several major cinema chains’ refusal to show the movie due to liability issues. And as George Clooney told Deadline Hollywood yesterday, not a single industry bigwig would agree to sign on to a petition that the actor and his agent Bryan Lourd circulated in support of free expression prior to the cancellation announcement. In an extensive interview with Mike Fleming Jr., Clooney discussed the implications going forward — not just for Hollywood or other creative industries, but for every economic sector in the United States.
Clooney and Lourd’s petition was sent to “basically the heads of every place” including film and television studios as well as record labels, and read in part:
This is not just an attack on Sony. It involves every studio, every network, every business and every individual in this country. That is why we fully support Sony’s decision not to submit to these hackers’ demands. We know that to give in to these criminals now will open the door for any group that would threaten freedom of expression, privacy and personal liberty. We hope these hackers are brought to justice but until they are, we will not stand in fear. We will stand together.
From past experience convincing networks to simulcast fundraising telethons, Clooney said he knew that if he could get just one or two people to sign many more would follow. Unfortunately in this case, he said, “nobody wanted to be the first to sign on.” He elaborated that the blame should not be placed with individuals, but with the entire industry which was unprepared to face such threats:
Now, this isn’t finger-pointing on that. This is just where we are right now, how scared this industry has been made. Quite honestly, this would happen in any industry. I don’t know what the answer is, but what happened here is part of a much larger deal. A huge deal. And people are still talking about dumb emails. Understand what is going on right now, because the world just changed on your watch, and you weren’t even paying attention.
Clooney also warned against ignoring the troubling implications for free expression only because the expression in this case happened to be light fare:
This was a dumb comedy that was about to come out. With the First Amendment, you’re never protecting Jefferson; it’s usually protecting some guy who’s burning a flag or doing something stupid. This is a silly comedy, but the truth is, what it now says about us is a whole lot.
Aside from the fact that comedy is expression just as surely as drama is, Clooney said the next movie to be self-suppressed by Hollywood might deal with weightier topics:
In general, when you’re doing films like that, the ones that are critical, those aren’t going to be studio films anyway. Most of the movies that got us in trouble, we started out by raising the money independently. But to distribute, you’ve got to go to a studio, because they’re the ones that distribute movies. The truth is, you’re going to have a much harder time finding distribution now. And that’s a chilling effect.
Even though his petition failed and The Interview will not be in theaters next week, Clooney is still asking Sony to get it out to the public by any means necessary and demonstrate that Hollywood will not fold completely with every spurious terrorist threat:
Stick it online. Do whatever you can to get this movie out. Not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I’m not going to be told we can’t see the movie. That’s the most important part. We cannot be told we can’t see something by Kim Jong-un, of all f*cking people.
Thanks to George Clooney and Bryan Lourd for standing up for free expression! There is much more to be found in the Deadline Hollywood interview, all of it spot on. We hope that studio heads will recognize before it’s too late that they made a massive mistake, and will band together to ensure that terrorists cannot dictate content.
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