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All gone Kim Jong? Both Sony and Paramount withdraw satirical films following hack and cyber threats
Two major studios have cancelled plans to screen films critical of North Korea following a major hack of Sony Pictures, prompting concerns that other companies may be susceptible to cybercrime to force a change in behaviour.
Sony cancelled the Christmas Day release of The Interview on Wednesday, shortly after it was confirmed by US intelligence officials that North Korea was behind a recent cyber-attack on the Hollywood studio. Several cinema chains cancelled the screenings forcing the company to pull the picture altogether. In another twist, Paramount studios has reportedly banned screenings of its 2004 comedy Team America: World Police, after several US theatres announced they would show the film in place of The Interview.
The hack is thought to have been motivated by the impending release of the film, which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as US TV journalists enlisted by the CIA to assassinate the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. A hacker group known as Guardians of Peace leaked a plethora of Sony cached data and then made threats against cinemas screening The Interview, and the cinema goers who chose to watch it, although the US government described the threats as not credible.
After Sony’s capitulation, The Alamo Drafthouse cinema in Dallas, the Capitol in Cleveland and the Plaza in Atlanta all announced they would host special screenings of Team America instead. Team America satirises previous North Korean Kim Jong Il, pictured above. However, Paramount is thought to have asked all three cinemas to cancel their screenings. No reason was given, and Paramount has not made any public statement about the decision.
On Wednesday it was also announced that another North Korea-set film had been scrapped by its production company, New Regency. Pyongyang, which was slated to go into production in March 2015, would have been a darkly comic thriller based on a graphic novel about an American accused of spying in North Korea. The film was set to star Steve Carell, who tweeted that it was a “sad day for creative expression”.
Carell is not alone in expressing frustration with the decision, and a copious range of figures have condemned the actions, including Stephen King, Judd Apatow and Aaron Sorkin, Rob Lowe, and Jimmy Kimmel. There is concern that this capitulation may make other companies targets for cyber-crime in the hope of extorting them into changing behaviour (whether it be North Korean satire or not). People have also criticized the media for doing the hackers’ work for them, by highlighting the most controversial emails leaked in the hack; including female film stars were paid less than their male co-stars and branding Angelina Jolie a “minimally talented spoiled brat” in a private email from producer Scott Rudin.
Future options for Sony include digitally distributing the film by itself. The Interview cost Sony an estimated $42m to produce, not nearly as much as action films but still a significant amount for a comedy film, and digital distribution may recoup some of the costs. So far, investors have not been too concerned about the potential hit to Sony’s bottom line. Sony’s share price has declined by just over 5% since the hack was revealed.