Sony has cancelled the Christmas release of its film The Interview following threats from hacker group ‘Guardians of Peace’. Back in June North Korea threatened a ‘merciless’ retaliation if the film depicting the assassination of Kim Jong-un by James Franco and Seth Rogen was to be released. A threat that was met with little worry until speculation that the recent Sony hacks came from North Korea itself.

The hacking of the Sony network (again) has resulted in the release of private data concerning the company and its employees. Terabytes of data were stolen during the attack and a multitude of personal and private company information, as well as future Sony releases, have been leaked to the public. The attack reached a climax when hackers threatened theatres with violent attacks if they were to show the comedy:

‘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’.

As a result of this threat, directly mentioning 9/11, several theatre chains decided not to show the film for fear of public safety and eventually Sony cancelled the film’s release date.

In a statement on Friday the 19th of December the FBI formally accused North Korea of the attack, stating that they now have ‘enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions’. In a White House press conference President Obama expressed his opinion that Sony should not have pulled the film, stating that America cannot become ‘a society where some dictator some place can start imposing censorship’.

It has to be mentioned that this film is a satirical comedy, Seth Rogen and James Franco are not, have not been and will not ever be in cahoots with the CIA to assassinate the North Korean dictator. The film is akin to Ben Stiller’s Zoolander, in which he plays a model who is brainwashed into assassinating the Malaysian Prime Minister. The difference being Malaysia decided not to air the film, rather than considering terrorist action in America. Both of these films are arguably done in bad taste – but bad taste is not an act of war.

Perhaps one of the most worrying things about this whole fiasco is the impact it will have on future productions. North Korea halted the release of The Interview and they went to extraordinary lengths to do so, the question of whether this will lead to an increase of self-censorship must be asked. It would be perfectly reasonable for a event such as this to cause artists to take a more conservative stance when publishing works. Fear is the ultimate tool of oppression.

This victory for North Korea could be a catalyst for a much more tentative and hesitant film industry, not just in America but worldwide. Controversial, critical films could take a real hit after this threat. Actor George Clooney has spoken out in an interview saying that this will make finding distribution for slightly more provocative films very difficult. What distribution company will spend money on a film that another country will prevent from ever seeing the light of day?

On the 18th of December, after Sony announced the halting of The Interview, Steve Carell tweeted that it was a ‘sad day for creative expression. #feareatsthesoul’ and he is completely right. If this can happen with a film, that is entirely and obviously a work of fiction, what would happen if a factual documentary showing North Korea or any other country in a bad light were to air? Pulling the film, whilst probably the safest option, means that the hackers have won. Censorship has prevailed and freedom of expression has taken an unimaginable blow.

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