Art as much as anything else is important to society. Art has always been a way for human beings to mark achievements, express emotions, or capture their culture in a single moment for future generations to see. When that expression is stifled it should be considered detrimental to all of us. But for some reason artistic expression only seems to become an issue when certain voices are silenced.
When the news came out earlier this month that “The Interview” wasn’t going to be screened in the US (which was later changed to limited screenings) many people were upset. That news, combined with the news that the Steve Carell vehicle “Pyongyang”, a movie he was doing with Gore Verbinski would not even be filmed, a few celebrities took to Twitter to announce that it was a “sad day for creative expression.” A thousand thinkpieces were launched.
“The Interview” is a Seth Rogen comedy starring himself and James Franco and is about a tabloid reporter and his producer who are hired by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong Un during an interview they’d managed to arrange with him. Anyone who is familiar with Seth Rogen’s movies already knows to expect the same silly, slapstick movie with babbling and incompetent protagonists à la “Pineapple Express” and “The Green Hornet.” However the added elements of a movie set in Korea that has a cast list of primarily White main characters — and depicts the graphic assassination of a living dictator — should make anyone cringe.
The fact that this movie exists shouldn’t really garner any attention. There are plenty of stupid comedies that come out every year, a lot of them by Seth Rogen. So what exactly made this movie go from being just another comedy to a political statement seemingly overnight? The mysterious hack of Sony, which released sensitive emails and personal information of Sony employees and other celebrities, has been deemed a cyber attack from North Korea, by the US Government. (The North Korea link’s truth is still being widely debated in tech media.) In the emails there is a back and forth between the producers, Seth Rogen, and the CEO of Sony about how the fictionalized Kim Jong Un is assassinated in the movie. This exchange coupled with the cancellation of movie screenings caused many to state that this stifling of creativity means that the “terrorists have won.”
What’s glossed over about the emails is the culture of sexism and racism. In the emails, actresses and female producers are called names and have their sanity questioned for being even the slightest bit demanding. This is a big contrast to the way Rogen is treated about his intended ending for “The Interview,” where he was allowed to re-shoot and work on the until all parties were satisfied. In another email, a producer explains how she doesn’t think African-American actors in lead roles — including giants like Denzel Washington — can garner enough box office success because they believe that “the international motion picture audience is racist.”
It seems that yes, it is a sad day for artistic expression, but not in the way that many would think. Many female and/or POC filmmakers and actors have a hard time getting the backing they need to get their projects done — for example, the Toussaint L’Ouverture biopic that Danny Glover has been working on since 2008, or the Cleopatra movie for which Angelina Jolie was called a brat in the leaked emails — and it seems as if Sony, and possibly other companies, are ok with it.
“The Interview” gaining so much attention for being cancelled after the Sony hack shows exactly who Hollywood thinks has the right to artistic expression and who doesn’t. Sadly when it comes to major motion pictures, it looks as if that sad day is every day.