You’ll have already heard plenty about all this, so the idea here is to keep it brief and to focus on the long-term implications. I’ll also want to avoid industry gossip based on private correspondence, but that said, it’s next to impossible to completely extricate all that from the main story.
First off, the Guardian‘s Catherine Shoard is updating a timeline of events each day. It begins in October 2013 with early reports on Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen and James Franco’s plans for a comedy called The Interview and moves along fairly quickly to the hack, the response and the ongoing fallout.
Security expert Bruce Schneier is “deeply skeptical” of the FBI’s claim that North Korea is behind the hack and, writing for the Atlantic, outlines “several possibilities to consider.”
Whoever they are, and whomever they’re working for, they call themselves the Guardians of Peace. For Motherboard (and via Movie City News), Jason Koebler talks with Peter W. Singer, author of Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know, about, among other things, the GOP’s threat to attack movie theaters screening The Interview. Singer argues that “we need to distinguish between threat and capability—the ability to steal gossipy emails from a not-so-great protected computer network is not the same thing as being able to carry out physical, 9/11-style attacks in 18,000 locations simultaneously. I can’t believe I’m saying this. I can’t believe I have to say this.”
New York‘s Frank Rich asks contributing writer Eric Benson about Sony’s decision to cancel the film’s release. The company now claims that it’ll get it out there, one way or another, but still: “I think everyone knows the precedent is ominous. As Fred Kaplan asked rhetorically at Slate, ‘Will hackers now threaten to raid and expose the computer files of other studios, publishers, art museums, and record companies if their executives don’t cancel some other movie, book, exhibition, or album?’ The short answer is yes. We are witnessing, in Alan Dershowitz’s phrase, the ‘Pearl Harbor of the First Amendment.’”
That said: “Before Sony capitulated, every major movie theater chain in the country had pulled out of showing The Interview. The Wall Street Journal reported that the nation’s largest cable company, Comcast, would have refused to show the film—and no doubt would have been joined in this veto by all the other cable and satellite providers if Sony had considered such a distribution alternative. So if Sony canceled a film that couldn’t be shown anyway, was that a cancellation or just a certification of reality? If Sony is a coward, they all are.”
“Stick it online,” argues George Clooney in Mike Fleming Jr‘s interview with him for Deadline. “Do whatever you can to get this movie out. Not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I’m not going to be told we can’t see the movie. That’s the most important part. We cannot be told we can’t see something by Kim Jong-un, of all fucking people.”
“The threats and subsequent cancellation will become a nightmare with a very long tail,” argues David Carr in the New York Times. An “untitled thriller about North Korea that was to have starred Steve Carell” has been scrapped. Paramount’s canceled screenings of Team America: World Police (2004). “And it doesn’t end with the entertainment. Some news outlets, including the New York Times, have found themselves under sustained digital attack after publishing articles that displeased various groups that had the resources to respond with intrusions. Many state-sponsored actors will no doubt be emboldened by the spectacular success of the Sony breach. Things have gone so deeply wrong so quickly… it is hard to keep track of all the mistakes that led us here, but I’d like to take a crack at it.” He considers the roles played so far by Sony, Hollywood and the media.
“After seeing The Interview and the ruckus its mere existence has caused, the only sensible reaction is amazement at the huge disconnect between the innocuousness of the film and the viciousness of the response,” writes Mike Hale, also in the NYT. “The real threat in The Interview isn’t a wackadoodle dictator, it’s the night terrors of loneliness and inadequacy that seem to bedevil a wide slice of Hollywood’s 30- and 40-something men and that are sublimated onscreen into weepy bromance, gross-out humor, gratuitous female nudity and intimations of homosexuality.”
At Buzzfeed, Alison Willmore suggests that Mads Brügger‘s 2009 documentary The Red Chapel is “sharper, darker, and more empathetic about the surreality and awfulness of life under the dictatorship.” May we also suggest Jim Finn‘s 2008 comedy The Juche Idea?
Updates, 12/23: “The Sony surrender is at once part of a long history of studio accommodations to intimidation tactics, at home and abroad, and a gesture that, to use a screenwriterly cliché, takes things to a whole other level,” writes Thomas Doherty, author of Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939, in the Hollywood Reporter, having just described how the Nazis shut down All Quiet on the Western Front in 1930. “I have been trying to think of a precedent case in American history—when the threat of terrorist violence has shut down the release of a Hollywood film, as it did in Germany on the cusp of Nazism. So far, I have drawn a blank. Anyone?”
— Tim League (@timalamo) December 23, 2014
“Sony has released a statement confirming what we’ve known all morning—the distributor will release The Interview on Thursday.” Robert Wilonsky reports in the Dallas Morning News: “‘I don’t think anyone could have predicted how this whole thing would have played out,’ says Alamo Drafthouse DFW programmer James Wallace…. ‘Certainly not us. We tried to have some fun with an otherwise tough situation and then somehow became the unlikely champions for freedom of expression. The response has been truly overwhelming and we were all absolutely amazed by the international outpouring of support for cinema and freedom of expression.’”
The Interview, by the way, currently has a Critics Round Up rating of 42/100.
Updates, 12/25: “Shortly after Sony Pictures Entertainment released The Interview on digital services Dec. 24, high-quality copies of the movie turned up on multiple piracy sites—and it’s already been downloaded at least 430,000 times within 16 hours.” Todd Spangler reports for Variety.
James Wolcott is “unable and unwilling to consider North Korea a rich source of mirth. It’s a cheap punching bag because it is so far away, so isolated, so cartoon-ish buffoonish in its propaganda, and the suffering of its people is mostly hidden from our eyes, as the Gulag Archipelago was for so many years. I was happy to see I wasn’t alone in my aversion. In a much-needed, impassioned piece at the Atlantic by Adrian Hong, he articulates much better than I could why North Korea isn’t funny.”
“This is one of those moments in our culture when its grotesque idiocy seems suddenly exposed, manifested everywhere, all over the media, everywhere you look,” argues Eileen Jones, writing for Jacobin.
James Kang‘s updated the Critics Round Up entry. Current rating: 50.
Update, 1/2: “North Korea was hit with more U.S. sanctions on Friday in response to what Washington said was its role in a cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment,” reports Reuters. “The sanctions named three entities, including the country’s military intelligence agency, as well as 10 North Korean government officials, among them individuals working in Iran, Syria, China, Russia and Namibia, according to the Treasury Department.”
Update, 1/5: “If anything should disturb you about the Sony hacking incidents and subsequent denial-of-service attack against North Korea, it’s that we still don’t know who’s behind any of it,” writes Bruce Schneier for the Atlantic. “Not knowing who did what isn’t new. It’s called the ‘attribution problem,’ and it plagues Internet security. But as governments increasingly get involved in cyberspace attacks, it has policy implications as well.”