WASHINGTON – It seems there is something to offend everyone in the upcoming Hollywood comedy “The Interview.” At this point, I’m guessing, most wounded of all may be the Sony Pictures executives who greenlighted the film.
Let me first note that Hollywood actor-auteur Seth Rogen has every right to make a hijinks movie about the assassination of a living world leader, in this case North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The First Amendment is meant to protect outrageous, rather than inoffensive, speech.
But if anyone had asked me, I’d have told them I’m not wild about scenarios – even wildly fictional ones – in which characters on a journalistic mission are recruited by the CIA to commit espionage and murder. It’s hard enough for reporters in danger zones to convince people they’re not instruments of the U.S. government. No matter how over-the-top a plotline might be, somebody somewhere is liable to take it seriously.
The North Korean government certainly did, calling the film “the most undisguised terrorism and a war action.” A statement said the movie “is touching off the towering hatred and wrath” of the North Korean people, adding that “if the U.S. administration connives at and patronizes the screening of the film, it will invite a strong and merciless countermeasure.”
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The government in Pyongyang may, or may not, have already taken that countermeasure: Someone hacked into the computer network of Sony Pictures Entertainment and released a trove of emails and other documents filled with embarrassing revelations about how Hollywood works.
The hackers, calling themselves Guardians of Peace, left behind pro-North Korea messages attacking the “movie of terrorism.” This might be a ruse to lead cybersleuths down the wrong path, and indeed the North Korean government has denied any involvement. The scale and sophistication of the intrusion, however, are said to be consistent with Pyongyang’s cyberwarfare capabilities.
Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal has already apologized for an email exchange with uber-producer Scott Rudin in which the two made racially insensitive remarks about President Barack Obama, trading quips about what movies he might want to talk about – and mentioning only black-themed films such as “12 Years a Slave,” “Django Unchained” and “The Butler.”
Rudin apologized for those remarks, too, but he has more explaining to do: In another email, he referred to Angelina Jolie as a “minimally talented spoiled brat.”
The hacked material details a pretty glaring example of apparent sexism: According to an email from a Columbia Pictures executive to Pascal, actress Jennifer Lawrence was paid less for her work in the 2013 film “American Hustle” than her male co-stars Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale and Jeremy Renner – despite the fact that Lawrence, because of “The Hunger Games,” was already a bigger star than any of the guys.
Some of the most interesting material, for me, is the email back-and-forth between Pascal and Rogen over the comic denouement of “The Interview,” in which the North Korean leader’s head explodes. However funny this might or might not be to American audiences, it is certainly much less funny to executives of Sony’s parent company in Tokyo. Everything about North Korea, including the buffoonish rhetoric, is less funny to those who live within missile range.
After promising to reduce “burn marks” and “flaming hair” on the Kim character, Rogen finally writes, “This is it!!! We removed the fire from the hair and the entire secondary wave of head chunks. Please tell us this is over now. Thanks so much!”
Sony and its lawyers have demanded that media organizations stop disclosing the contents of the hacked material, which the company says is proprietary – and stolen. So much is already in the public domain, however, that it’s safe to draw at least two conclusions.
First, when you feel like griping or gossiping about a colleague, a competitor or the president of the United States, by all means write it in an email – then delete the email before sending it and go take a walk.
Second, if you want to make a zany movie about killing a brutal dictator, you’ll save yourself some trouble if you pick one who’s already dead.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is email@example.com.