December 17, 2014
In 2013, James Franco notoriously likened “art” to video games, Subway sandwiches and even being born. Little did he know that one year later, his latest work of art would be kept from public view because it angered a group of people. It incited threats from those in power, brought about probable acts of violence and almost-certain boycotting from exhibition spaces, and ignited media controversy. His art was, by definition, censored.
Most of you probably know that I’m talking about The Interview, the latest film from James Franco and Seth Rogen. The central focus of its plot line is how Franco and Rogen are recruited to work for the CIA and plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, leader of North Korea.
Yesterday, Sony announced it was pulling the plug on The Interview and its release. The statement came amidst a hacking controversy – the hackers seemingly a group from North Korea retaliating for the film – and the decision of major exhibitors not to show the film rose out of safety concerns for employees and theatergoers.
As news spread that the movie got axed, so did concerns and outcries from the creative community. The censorship is undeniable and many argued the decision may have long-term effects on freedom of speech, especially with regard to art.
What kind of precedent does this set? What happens when you allow people with money and power to silence dissenting opinions – creative, fantastical or otherwise? Does the fact that this film could be categorized as “bro-y” or “douchetastic” make it any less legitimate under the umbrella of art? And if it does, how is that line defined?
Without a staunch belief in artistic expression and the freedom surrounding it, we may never have read The Satanic Verses; Dan Brown’s novels-turned-films may never have seen the big screen; and NWA’s infamous ’88 protest song would certainly never have left the recording studio.
While questions around the cultural and social value of The Interview are certainly valid, we may feel the effect of Sony’s decision for far longer than 112 minutes.