A film about the assassination of the North Korean leader has led to a diplomatic crisis.
Sony Pictures has been in the doghouse ever since it announced last week that it would not go ahead with the Christmas Day-release of new film The Interview, following a series of cyber attacks on the company and threats on cinema audiences.
The cancellation has drawn criticism from both within Hollywood and even from US President Barack Obama, with many branding it as an attack on freedom of expression.
The movie depicts the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, and, as a consequence, maker Sony has been the target of cyber attacks from North Korean sympathisers.
At the end of November, the company's computer systems were hacked, with embarrassing emails and personal details of celebrities released publicly. Although denying its involvement, North Korea labelled the act a “righteous deed”.
Early last week, the Guardians of Peace hacker group threatened 9/11-type attacks on cinemas screening the film, leading to the cancellation of the New York premiere. A number of leading US cinema groups subsequently refused to show the film, leading Sony to cancel its Christmas Day-release.
President Obama has branded the cancellation a “mistake”, saying “we cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship” and that he wished Sony executives had spoken to him before making the decision.
Sony said yesterday that it was looking into different ways to release the film but has still been attacked by critics who believe it could have done more to persuade the rebellious cinemas to show the film.
US film industry expert David Poland has come to Sony’s defence, saying the situation changed once human lives came under threat.
He told City A.M.: “I don’t know what else Sony could have done, since it was the theatres that refused to screen it and that was after a direct threat on human lives. For Sony, it’s better to be deemed cowards than to be culpable for deaths.
And rather than Sony being at fault, others blame the US government for being too slow in addressing the issue.
A senior advertising executive told City A.M.: “In some ways releasing the film reaffirms America’s belief in democracy and stands as a demonstration that they won’t bow to the pressures of ‘cyber terrorism’. On the other, I wonder how America would feel if a Korean film company had launched a film about assassinating Obama.
“In my view it’s been a big publicity management failure — someone important in the US should have acknowledged the film being insensitive and expressed an understanding. That would have provided the foundations to a) condemn the method of retaliation (whoever did it) and b) reaffirm that what was created was not illegal, allowing the film to be released for the people to decide.
“Of course the irony now is the film will be 10 times more successful than first imagined – films that get banned always are. However, the biggest lesson of all is to never assume anything by email won’t be made public.”
So for Sony – no matter how it ends up releasing the film – perhaps it’s more the group’s HR policies than PR that needs looking at. This has suddenly become the most talked-about film of 2014.