Release of The Interview tests freedom of speech

Could war be once again on the table with North Korea? With the controversy and national security issues surrounding Seth Rogen’s latest work, The Interview, it very well could be. The Interview is a political satire comedy film starring James Franco and Seth Rogen. The film depicts a fictional talk show host named Dave Skylark (Franco) and his producer (Rogen), who are tasked by the United States government to assassinate the North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un. Many people see the film as harmless comedy, but North Korea thinks differently.

North Korea is a hermit nation that has been headed by the Kim family of dictators since Kim il Sung took power in 1948. This dynasty forces complete obedience and loyalty from is citizens. They have even fabricated a cult of personality around themselves, which means that they are worshipped by their citizens like gods. Naturally, any work considered to be insulting to the Kim dynasty is punishable by prison or, in the worst cases, death.

When The Interview was announced in June 2014, North Korean media immediately responded. On June 25, 2014, the Korean Central News Agency reported that the government promised “stern” and “merciless” retaliation if the film were to be released, stating that “making and releasing a film that portrays an attack on our top-level leadership is the most blatant act of terrorism and war and will absolutely not be tolerated.”

These threats were ignored because North Korea has had a history of making false threats toward the United States. Production of the movie continued until November, when Sony Pictures Entertainment was hacked by a group called the “Guardians of Peace.” They leaked phone calls, employee records, emails, and unreleased movies. Responding to the pressure, Sony decided to pull the plug on the film and cancel its release.

This decision sparked outrage from the public, Hollywood, and the U.S. Federal Government. President Obama spoke out against this decision, calling it a “mistake” and further commented that the hacking attack was an act of “cyber vandalism.” As pressure mounted from numerous channels, Sony ultimately made the decision to release the film online and at select theaters across the United States.

Obama’s spokesperson Eric Schultz stated, “The decision made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film, and we welcome that outcome.”

Upon release, the film proved to widely popular with audiences and critics alike. It went on to gross $5.4 million in the box office and over $31 million in online sales and rentals, making it the largest online release of any movie in Sony’s history. All in all, The Interview proved to be more than just a movie. It was a test of free speech.