Friday, December 19, 2014

Freedom (or lack thereof) of Expression

Earlier today, the FBI formally accused North Korea as the perpetrator of the cyberattack that brought Sony Pictures to its knees resulting in their caving into the demands of pulling the movie The Interview from theaters. This work of fiction has a plot where journalists secure an interview with North Korean dictator, Kim Jon-un. They are subsequently instructed by the CIA to assassinate him. For North Koreans, the plot "touched a nerve inside the regime, which takes a dim view of satirical treatment of its leaders and is notoriously paranoid about perceived threats to their safety." There are a couple of facts in this chain of events that baffles me:
  1. A sophisticated cyberattack (arguably the most damaging attack carried out against an enterprise) was carried out in a country where citizens are thought to lack basic internet access
  2. Hollywood executives reportedly screened the ending of The Interview to the state department and got their "official blessing"
This is certainly not the first controversial film to be made by the film industry. Recently, there was an outcry when the screening of Kamal Hassan's Vishwaroopam was banned in Tamil Nadu because it portrayed Muslims in poor light. This ban, however, was executed by the Government - in the pretext of promoting "Cultural Harmony". If anything, President Obama came out saying that Sony made a mistake in pulling the film. I can't think of any other time in history when the studio capitulated to threats.

The Interview was slated to be released on Christmas Day - along with other blockbusters including the final Hobbit film. Despite its decent reviews, it would have been hard to make a huge impact in the BoxOffice. With the pulling of the film, almost every one will want to see it when it is ultimately released.

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