I always spend Christmas Day at the movies with my family. This year in the weeks leading up to the holiday, cyber hackers threatened this tradition.
The movie “The Interview,” which was set to open on Dec. 25, triggered controversy with its satirical portrayal of two American journalists who seek to assassinate North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un.
The Sony hackers, whom the FBI has claimed are from North Korea, threatened movie theaters playing this film with attacks reminiscent of 9/11. On Dec. 17, Sony responded by announcing it would pull the film, but later decided to release “The Interview” in a limited number of independent theaters on Christmas Day.
Many Americans were disconcerted about “The Interview” being pulled from big, chain theaters and about the terrorist threats that may have come from North Korea. Many who wouldn’t have seen “The Interview” otherwise made it their patriotic duty to endure Seth Rogen and James Franco’s silly, and sometimes vulgar, antics.
Some sought out independent movie theaters that were still playing the film, while others rented the movie on Video On Demand. YouTube even made “The Interview” available for streaming online. Seeing the film one way or another became equivalent to heroically exercising one’s freedom of speech and taking a stance against foreign intimidation.
The Roxy Theater, home to the Philadelphia Film Society, is the only theater currently playing the movie in the city.
“There was a decision made by Sony to pull the film last minute,” said Managing Director of PFS, Parinda Patel. “We probably would have played the film on Christmas Day [if it weren’t for scheduling conflicts].”
“We don’t bow down to terrorism,” said Brian Miller, managing director of The Pearl Theatre at Avenue North. The Pearl was set to show the film before it was pulled by Sony.
“We were told to take preliminary precautions,” Patel said of the theater’s decision to show “The Interview.”
Of course, I also don’t believe that the United States should submit to demands made by terrorists, but I don’t believe we should make this movie into a rallying cry for freedom of speech either.
The U.S. media and the U.S. public’s news consumption are some of the main targets of satire in the movie. The truth is that this comedy makes fun of the United States almost as much as it does North Korea. Seeing “The Interview” does not combat terrorism or hurt Jong-un.
“I think the entire movie was kind of a shame – it could’ve been used to bring attention to the plight of the people of North Korea,” said Allie Leber, a freshman political science major.
“The Interview” should have drawn more attention to the issue we should focus on in North Korea — the gross human rights violations of Jong-un’s totalitarian regime.
It seems to me that the controversy surrounding “The Interview” has misdirected energy and attention that could otherwise be spent on learning about North Korea’s human rights violations.
In November, the U.N. General Assembly recognized the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report, which documents the human rights atrocities committed by the North Korean government. The Commission of Inquiry report, which was published last February, notes crimes against humanity that include starvation, forced labor, rape and torture. The General Assembly officially denounced these crimes in December.
The General Assembly also voted to have North Korea’s human rights issue moved to the U.N. Security Council, which is considering taking the issue to the International Criminal Court. This past December, two-thirds of the Security Council called for North Korea’s human rights conditions to be placed on their agenda for continued deliberation.
The progress that has been made in addressing North Korea’s human rights violations over the past several months has suddenly been overshadowed by Hollywood’s most recent action-comedy.
Unfortunately, the writers and actors of “The Interview” failed to draw attention to North Korea’s real problems. This movie could have worked to expose the depravity of North Korea’s totalitarian regime, but instead the creators of “The Interview” chose to focus more energy on incorporating Jong-un’s love of basketball into their script, along with a few racially-offensive jokes.
In its defense, “The Interview” is a comedy. We can’t expect Seth Rogen and James Franco to lead our movements for social change. We, as informed U.S. citizens, must do this ourselves.
The first step toward change in North Korea’s capital city, Pyongyang and beyond is to make sure we continue talking about the country. We must work to publicize the human rights violations of Jong-un’s government. While we condemn Jong-un and his administration’s behavior, hopefully the U.S. government can cut off any funding to the North Korean government.
The U.S. government’s recent sanctions on North Korea are a start, and if the United States puts the totalitarian regime back on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, more sanctions will follow.
Hopefully, all the controversy surrounding this movie will lead to some real, lasting changes for North Korea. And if this controversy does anything for the United States, I hope it reminds all of us how lucky we are to be living in a democracy where we have freedom of speech.
Let’s use this freedom to make a difference.
Jenny Roberts can be reached at email@example.com
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