(UPDATE: Paramount reportedly declined to offer Team America to Alamo Drafthouse, which planned to show the 2004 satire in place of The Interview.)
The Interview is probably a terrible movie. At the very least, it’s unlikely to bring much of value into the world: A stoner comedy starring James Franco and Seth Rogen, based on the stupid premise that the two are journalists who agree to assassinate North Korean president Kim Jong-un during an interview with the leader. The movie cost Sony a reported $44 million to make; it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which it would do much more than make back its budget under any circumstance.
But the current circumstance for The Interview is unique: After hackers with reported ties to North Korea stole countless documents (and a handful of forthcoming films) from the Sony servers and gave them to the press, the studio reeled as private information belonging to their employees, including medical records and social security numbers, leaked around the Internet.
Entertainment writers who received the emails from “Guardians of Peace,” the hacker organization who took credit for the online security breach, spent most of the past several weeks poring through the documents for evidence of embarrassing communication styles or tidbits about who the studio is hoping to cast in Ghostbusters 3. And as the hack stayed in the public eye, the “GoP” organization issued a new threat yesterday:
In the online message – written in the group’s characteristically erratic English and accompanied by what appears to be stolen files related to the Sony chairman, Michael Lynton – GOP wrote:
- We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places “The Interview” be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to.
- Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made.
- The world will be full of fear.
- Remember the 11th of September 2001.
- We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time.
- (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)
- Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
- All the world will denounce the SONY.
In the wake of that threat, most of the country’s largest theater chains, including Plano-based Cinemark, opted out of their agreement with Sony to screen The Interview. One chain that didn’t, however, is the Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse. As the other big movie houses were busy bowing to threats of an attack on, apparently, every movie theater in the country, Drafthouse programmer Greg MacLennan tweeted the company’s ticketing link for The Interview.
— Greg MacLennan (@alamogreg) December 17, 2014
That bit of defiance to the threat of violence was ultimately rendered moot; by Wednesday afternoon, Sony announced that it would be canceling the release of The Interview altogether. However, the Drafthouse found another way not to back down in the face of threats: The chain’s Dallas-area location told the Hollywood Reporter that it would be screening Team America: World Police, another (dumb) farcical comedy about North Korea, in its stead:
After Sony canceled the release of the North Korea assassination comedy The Interview, a Texas theater said it would swap the film with Paramount’s 2004 film Team America: World Police for one free screening.
“We’re just trying to make the best of an unfortunate situation,” James Wallace, creative manager and programmer at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s Dallas/Fort Worth location, tells The Hollywood Reporter.
American flags and other patriotic items will be given out by theater employees, Wallace says.
The plot of Team America, co-written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, revolves around Kim Jong Il, the father of current North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The posters promoting the R-rated movie in 2004 included the tagline, “Putting the ‘F’ Back in Freedom.”
The decision to cancel the release of The Interview has attracted a lot of attention. The fact that a studio opted to stifle speech after threats of violence has triggered outrage on both sides of the political spectrum. Questions of whether a book like Salman Rushdie’s famous The Satanic Verses could be published today have been raised. Rob Lowe, who appears in The Interview, tweeted that pre-Churchill UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain—the go-to reference for the strategy of appeasement—would be proud.
Discussions of free speech and courage are always interesting, even if the most ardent defenders of The Interview’s right to exist probably wish they were talking about a movie with more substance and of greater importance. And, indeed, when the Drafthouse defiantly tweeted its ticketing link to demonstrate that—unlike other theaters—they weren’t intimidated by the threat that the “GoP” was going to blow up every movie theater from Waxahachie to Amarillo that screened it, the implication was clear: If you stand against bullies and terrorists, go see The Interview.
The film probably will end up being a signifier of a certain sort of defiant “I won’t be intimidated” attitude when it is eventually released, even if that’s just Sony dumping the thing on iTunes and VOD in a couple of months without fanfare.
Reasonable people can disagree if the theater chains that tipped Sony’s hand in pulling The Interview have a responsibility to stand up against threats, or if they have a responsibility to avoid risking the safety of any employees and audience members who may have been in the building in a worst-case scenario. But if we’re looking for a movie to use as a symbol of defiance in the face of threats and intimidation, the SXSW award-winning Vessel is probably a better choice than The Interview.
Vessel, a documentary about the organization Women on Waves (which provides non-surgical abortion access to women who live in countries with restrictive abortion laws by docking in international waters, and then administering the procedure), premiered this March at SXSW in Austin. It took home two awards at the festival: the Audience Award for best documentary feature, and the Special Jury Award for political courage.
Earlier this month in Sweden, a screening of the film was gassed by three masked men in what authorities characterized as a “politically motivated” attack. No one was injured, but the country’s Gothenberg Film Festival essentially challenged the attackers to try it again by adding Vessel to its lineup:
The festival’s artistic director, Jonas Holmberg, said in a statement that the incident was “an attack against democracy, freedom of speech, and against the function of film festivals as places for the free exchange of ideas,” adding that “violence must never prevail over a film’s freedom.”
“Violence must never prevail over a film’s freedom” is a sentiment that, presumably, even people who disagree with the actions depicted in Vessel can support wholeheartedly, if they’re frustrated with Sony for canceling The Interview. And Vessel, despite being the target of actual terrorism at the hands of people who, according to police, wanted to stifle its message, continues to screen both in Sweden and the rest of the world. (Two Texas screenings are on its schedule within the next few weeks: In Dallas, in late December, and in San Antonio—at an Alamo Drafthouse location—in early January.)
(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)