After a long, humiliating two weeks of embarrassing internal data leaked by the Sony hackers, the saga appeared to take a somber tone. Despite no mention of North Korea in the hackers initial contact, after weeks of press speculation, the hackers followed up with a threat, a violent threat – remove The Interview from theaters, or face a 9/11 style attack on theaters.
After Sony gave theater chains the option to yank the title, many followed through with that option, pulling the film. Not long after, the FBI came forth with less than circumstantial evidence blaming North Korea – this in spite of many security experts pointing to strong evidence of an inside job (including chat room communications and former employees with access/motive). Running with the FBI’s insistence on a Nation State attack, Hollywood took to social media to mourn like a post-9/11 community all in spite of no blood spilled.
The offense? That some two-bit dictator could control speech.
Here’s the thing, even if you do accept the North Korea narrative, it was ultimately theater chains who elected to pull the film. It was Sony who suggested (likely against legal pressure) to offer chains the option of doing so. It was Sony, who prior to releasing the film on VOD, that caved to demands. And if scripts with controversial political narratives are avoided in the future, that will be because of corporate self-censorship and a philistine attitude toward art and risk-taking.
Several weeks later the unthinkable happened: 12 people killed because of terrorists taking offense to political cartoons. Three radical Islamist perpetrators stormed the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, killing 12 including several prominent French satirists and cartoonists.
After it became clear that it was religious extremism in response to unflattering satire, many took to champion the right to free expression and the right to create.
Hollywood took it a step further, linking the attacks on Charlie Hebdo to the Koreans alleged attack on Sony. Chris Dodd, chairman of the MPAA, stated in condemning the attacks in Paris “Our industry has experienced firsthand cowardly attempts (to destroy) freedom of speech, and we offer our expression of support.”
The difference is the MPAA openly supports the censorship of content every day with their prude rating system. Corporations will have censored themselves by avoiding politically controversial material in the future. Sony and theater chains pulled The Interview.
Hollywood is a victim of self censorship. Charlie Hebdo is a victim of pursuing a noble art in spite of a Fatwa declared against their artists and publication. Hollywood’s threats ended with unsubstantiated threats made against a bro-comedy which were dismissed by the FBI. Charlie Hebdo never had a warning, 12 died.
Prior to the attack, in spite of receiving death threats, and after a Dutch cartoonist nearly paid for his life because he portrayed the Prophet Mohammed in print, Charlie Hebdo cartoonists like Jean Cabut, still went to work to create their political satire; their art. The French continue to push boundaries creatively, and do not cower before corporate pressure or radical views aimed against their work.
So sorry to those who side with the widely circulated Variety article linking the two incidents together, but they are NOT AT ALL comparable.
If anything, perhaps the true artists in Hollywood and beyond will look to be inspired by the courage shown by these artists. Perhaps we should be taking a stand against self censorship, not caving to it. True art persists in spite of forces against it. Free speech is speech that remains undiluted in the face of corporate or religious censorship. True art was attacked today, and true art is what should be celebrated, not some poor attempt to selfishly draw a correlation between major events.