‘The Interview’ Is Out; and Now We Can All Calm Down
Over this past month, The Interview has become the most controversial movie in recent memory. Initially the film was denounced by the North Korean government as an act of terrorism. Then the Sony hack took place, with over 100 terrabytes of data swiped from the studio. The offending hackers demanded the film not be released lest there be more serious consequences, a request that was quickly fulfilled by the studio. The New York premiere was canceled, Seth Rogen and James Franco pulled out of talk show appearances to promote it, and soon after it was announced that The Interview would never see the light of day. Fear escalated to such a level that Paramount even pulled screenings of Team America: World Police, set to replace Sony’s then-canceled product. It was being seen as an unprecedented attack on the film industry’s freedom of speech.
However, after all the posturing, debating, complaining, and compromising, Sony Pictures finally reversed course. The Interview hit streaming services Google Play, YouTube, and XBox Video, and is seeing an official wide release in theaters across the country. Variety is reporting that Netflix is in talks with the studio to stream the movie as well. The controversy, then, seems to be winding down with a whimper.
So why the 180-degree turnabout from Sony? The reason seems to be twofold. First, its decision to pull The Interview was seemingly largely based on limiting Sony’s liability for any potential harm to the theater audience. GOP made references to 9/11 in its threats, and it immediately became an issue of not putting people at risk for the sake of a single movie. But the debate eventually escalated past a simple film premiere, and became about something greater: Showing that the country wouldn’t allow itself to be subject to the demands of a foreign dictatorship.
The second reason for the reversal was even simpler: Sony was losing in the court of public opinion. While debate raged across the Internet, the general consensus was that the studio had made a massive mistake in allowing things to carry on this far. What started out as a release of a decidedly average stoner comedy blew up into a PR nightmare for a studio whose image was already suffering in the wake of a hack that leaked mountains of sensitive and embarrassing information. Sony needed a win, and the only way to accomplish this was to pick up the pieces and allow The Interview to come out.
In the aftermath of the release, things have calmed down. Rotten Tomatoes rated The Interview at a middling 49%, so it’s not like Citizen Kane was being kept from the public. What’s important though is that the movie was released at all. That fact that it was in jeopardy at all sets a dangerous precedent for controversial films moving forward, as there’s now a process in place showing how to effectively intimidate a studio. The hope is that the resulting reversal is what’s remembered here. A roadmap has been laid out for the negative press any studio faces should it feel reticent about going wide with a potentially contentious film. Now it’s up to the people making such movies to follow that map.