I am reticent to comment on artistic creations that I have not seen, read or heard first hand and it seems unlikely that I’ll be able to view the controversial motion picture “The Interview” anytime soon.
According to some who have reviewed it, the satire appears to be a third-rate comedy at best. So why the cyber-attack against the Sony Pictures that produced the film? And threats against theaters that might show the motion picture?
This is just the latest in a disturbing trend and the reaction is all too familiar. Motion pictures increasingly have sparked protests around the globe for their representation of political and religious figures that many viewers find offensive.
We saw the Arab outrage in the aftermath of the U.S.-made motion picture “Innocence of Muslims” that implied the immorality of the Islam Prophet Muhammad. A U.S. appeals court ordered YouTube to remove it.
The “Diamonds of Punjab” sparked criticism that it glorified the assassins of India Prime Minister Indira Ghandi. The government was pressured to ban its release.
It isn’t surprising, then, that North Korea would be equally incensed at a movie mocking its leader Kim Jong-un.
Furthermore, imagine U.S. reaction to a foreign-made film depicting the assassination of President Obama or an offensive presentation of Christ?
Sony Pictures has come under fire from critics including President Barack Obama and actor George Clooney for reportedly caving into to the cyber-blackmail and deciding not to release the film. An allegation Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton strongly denies.
It was the theaters themselves, Lynton asserts, that decided not to show the film for fear of possible litigation by any theater employee or patron if the hacker threats materialized.
What’s the answer?
Our First Amendment protects free speech, which includes artistic expression. Of course, movie producers have the right to make the film and to distribute it. Yet they have an equal responsibility to protect the safety and privacy of their employees.
And theaters have an equal right to pick and choose the product they want to show their customers and to consider their security.
Although I fail to see the humor in movie plot that depicts the assassination of a real political leader. Others may and they should be able to see the film. Sony Pictures should assure that the motion picture is available in some form.
The more difficult issue is how do we balance our first amendment rights against physical threats and cyber attacks? How do you decide between the commercial interests of your company and the security of your employees?
It is easy to criticize decisions when you don’t face the challenge. But as cyber attacks and threats proliferate, we may all soon confront similar situations.
Then how will we respond?