The past few weeks have been a turbulent time for Sony, and many articles have covered the events in great detail. If you are already aware of the basic story, feel free to skip this first paragraph and get to the core issue I want to touch on. For the rest of you, who want a reminder of events, a hacking group calling themselves The Guardians of Peace began a cyber-terrorism campaign, breaking down servers and stealing documents, scripts, films, and emails from the company. Some of these emails and documents were private exchanges between Sony employees, and have been the source of all the recurrence of Spider-Man in Civil War rumours (which was old news and is still not going to happen), as well as some insulting remarks made against various celebs which has resulted in embarrassment for those involved. Disregarding the ethical questions regarding the news sites who published the emails (who seemed to think it was fine as Sony are a big company and deserve some flak – thus ignoring the very human aspect of people who believed their conversations were personal), the whole experience started to grow out of hand when medical insurance records had been hacked, and families of Sony employees were being drawn into the threats. When the hackers released a statement threatening doom to cinemas who screen the film, The Interview, with comments such as, “We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time,” it was the last straw for the major cinema chains in the US who refused to screen the film over the security risk involved. Sony initially responded by cancelling the release of the film, including any planned home release. After a bit of a backlash from industry pundits, Sony took the sensible step to retract that previous cancellation, and the film saw limited release on small cinemas in the US on Boxing Day, and a US digital download release at the same time.
Now, whilst it is genuinely a sad day for the industry when a distributor can be bullied into almost not releasing a film, what made it sadder were the, “Oh it looked rubbish anyway,” comments being thrown out by people who didn’t actually understand the significance of it all. The precedent was set, and pretty much every film made can cause offence to someone somewhere. Don’t like the idea of a black stormtrooper? That’s fine, start hacking and threatening now and you might stop it. Bond is sexist? Get going with the hate campaign and threaten to blow up cinemas. Feel that the Fast & Furious films promote high pollution cars that damage the environment? Get on it keyboard warriors.
You see, any ’cause’ could now follow suit, and aim to cripple production of any film that bothers them. Already one film has been scrapped (a spy film which was going to star Steve Carrell), how many more will follow? I’ve said this before elsewhere, but must stress that there are people who have lost money in the form of income from this, not just corporate profits, but writers, camera crew, sound engineers, and all the other folk involved in making a film. Real people now without work due to a film being cancelled early in production. Whilst The Interview is now seeing a limited release, and a digital distribution, there is no way it will make the kind of money that Sony initially hoped, not without the major cinema chains’ support. It is likely the film will suffer a loss, but at least Sony have gained some credibility by standing up to the cyber-bullies and going ahead with some kind of release (intriguingly the Guardians of Peace issued a message saying they would allow Sony to release the film after all…AFTER Sony had already decided to do so. I suspect their bluff was called, and Sony won.)
Some folk speculated whether the whole affair was a publicity stunt to generate more interest in the film. Just the simple fact that early in the hacks a handful of unreleased Sony films were illegally obtained and distributed via online torrent sites should be enough to quell that myth. Why would Sony decide to kill the box office of other, higher profile films just to get more publicity for a Seth Rogan film that cost around $40million? Add to that the leaked scripts, embarrassing emails, and references to 9/11, and it is quite obvious to anyone that Sony didn’t engineer this whole thing.
Whilst I did also throw out some jokey memes on various social media sites online around it all (after all, humour is a very human reaction to difficult situations) I still saw the bad precedent this has all set. From the start of the leaks onward I have commented on the genuine concerns all the actions of the past couple of weeks raise. Now it has proven to be a genuinely terrible moment for the industry. A film’s distribution and resulting box office takings can be damaged by a cyber-bullying campaign. Imagine if, next December, we are suddenly told that Disney are pulling the release of Star Wars Episode 7 because the cast and crew have had threats made online against them – how would you feel then?
So to those saying the film looked rubbish anyway and it is good it has been cancelled, I leave you with the words of Martin Niemoller.
” In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist…
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
…then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew…
When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.”