“The Interview” is probably the most famous movie you might never be able to see. The dark comedy had been set to open in theaters across America next Thursday. But this week, Sony Pictures Entertainment cancelled the release of the film following threats from a group of computer hackers.
James Franco and Seth Rogen attend early showing of 'The Interview," in Los Angeles, California.
“The Interview” stars American actors James Franco and Seth Rogen, who was also one of the film’s directors. The two men play television reporters who win an interview with the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un.
Before the reporters leave for North Korea, U.S. officials ask them to kill President Kim during their visit. They agree.
Film angers North Korea and hackers group
North Korea was not pleased with the movie. It began to publicly object in June. The government called the film, “an act of war” that it would never accept. It said there would be “merciless retaliation” if it was released.
Then, in November, hackers attacked Sony Pictures Entertainment. A group calling itself “Guardians of Peace” broke into Sony’s computers. It stole and released tens of thousands of e-mails as well as employee information and other sensitive company material. It also leaked several Sony movies before their release dates.
The hackers released a number of e-mails among Sony Pictures officials about President Barack Obama and major Hollywood stars. These seriously embarrassed the company and led to public apologies.
Online threats against movie theaters
On December 16, the Guardians of Peace followed the hack job with online threats against theaters that planned to show “The Interview.” It warned people to stay away from those theaters and to remember September 11, 2001.
Seth Rogen and James Franco had already withdrawn from publicity events for the film. Early Wednesday, a large number of major theater companies said they would not show the film during the holiday season as planned. Some said they would not show it at all.
Sony decides against release; criticism follows
Hours later, Sony Pictures cancelled the release of the film. It said the safety of theater employees and moviegoers was most important. Sony also said it was “the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business.” It condemned the effort to suppress the movie and added, “We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression.”
There also may have been financial pressure to pull the movie. The holiday season is important to Hollywood earnings. Many film studios release their biggest, costliest productions over the Christmas and New Year holiday weeks. A threat of terrorism at movie theaters could severely affect movie attendance and ticket sales.
Most people inside and outside of Hollywood have criticized Sony’s decision to cancel the release of “The Interview.” Actor Ben Stiller tweeted, “Really hard to believe this is the response to a threat to freedom of expression here in America.” Actor Steve Carell tweeted, “sad day for creative expression.” Comedian and talk show host Bill Mahr tweeted, “Is that all it takes - an anonymous threat and the numbers 911 - to throw free expression under the bus?” Actress Mia Farrow also commented on Twitter. “Bad guys won,” she tweeted.
US blames hack on North Korea
This week, U.S. government officials said investigators have linked North Korea to the cyberattack. American officials said they consider the incident a “serious national security matter.” And they said the Obama administration is considering a number of possible ways to answer the attack.
North Korea has repeatedly denied involvement.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, in an undated photo released by North Korea.
The United States and its allies have already ordered economic restrictions on North Korea for its nuclear and missile programs. These sanctions have deeply hurt that country’s economy and left it isolated from the rest of the world.
However, it also means there are not many more tools of punishment.
It is hard to predict what will happen to “The Interview.” The dispute, cybercrime and resulting public anger may lead to huge ticket sales later or a major online audience if the film is streamed. The movie may have gotten the best publicity possible.
I’m Caty Weaver.
Do you agree with Sony’s decision to cancel the release of “The Interview?” Do you think the Sony computer attack may affect movie-making in the future? Let us know. Post your comment on our website learningenglish.voanews.com.
Caty Weaver wrote this report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
interview – n. a meeting between a reporter and another person in order to get information for a news story
retaliate – v. to do something bad to someone who has hurt you or treated you badly: to get revenge against someone
embarrass – v. to make (a person, group, government, etc.) look foolish in public
isolation – n. the state of being in a place or situation that is separate from others
audience – n. a group of people who gather together to listen to something (such as a concert) or watch something (such as a movie or play): the people who attend a performance