President Barack Obama gave his year-end press conference today, and it didn’t take long for the topic to turn to Sony’s decision to pull The Interview from theaters in response to threats linked to the North Korean government. Pundits at CNN were unanimous in their belief prior to the start of the conference that Obama would not say anything critical of Sony in the matter. They were wrong.
“I am sympathetic to the concerns that they face. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake,” Obama said after being asked if Sony made the right decision earlier this week. “Let’s not get into that way of doing business.”
“We cannot have a society in which some dictators some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States. Because if somebody is able to intimidate us out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing once they see a documentary that they don’t like or news reports that they don’t like,” Obama said later in his remarks. “Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others started engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended. That’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about.”
“I wish they (Sony) had spoken to me first,” Obama said. “I would have told them, ‘Do not get into a pattern in which you are intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.'”
Obama stated that the United States will come up with a response to North Korea that is “proportional and appropriate” and “in a time and place and manner that we choose.” The President was not willing to say what that response was, but couldn’t help but get a dig in at the North Korean government—and, inadvertently, James Franco.
“It says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James Flacco [sic],” the President said. “I love Seth and I love James, but the notion that that was a threat to them I think gives you some sense of the kind of regime we are talking about here.”
I’m not sure what James Flacco, er, I mean, James Franco, has to do to have the President remember his name. You’d think if being nominated for an Oscar wasn’t enough, creating an international incident would be.
Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton responded to the President’s remarks by…putting the blame on the theaters themselves.
In an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that will air on tonight’s Anderson Cooper 360, Lynton states that “We have not caved. We have persevered. And we have not backed down.We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie.”
“The president, the press, and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened,” Lynton said. “We do not own movie theaters. We cannot determine whether or not a movie will be played in movie theaters.”
Granted, the five major theater chains, Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment, Cinemark, Carmike Cinemas and Cineplex Entertainment, dropped the film, but it WAS Sony that pulled the plug on the release. Some theaters were willing to show the film. The Dallas/Fort Worth branch of the Alamo Drafthouse seemed willing to show it, going so far to replace it with Team America: World Police as a protest after Sony cancelled the release (that is, until Paramount pulled that film as well) and Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin was critical of Sony because he could not show the film in the Santa Fe theater he owns, Jean Cocteau Cinema.
Many people say that one of the reasons Sony pulled The Interview from an type of release is that insurance policies might cover the studio’s losses, estimated to be anywhere from $75 million to $200 million dollars, unless the film is completely and utterly cancelled. However, there are some that say that since this situation is so unique, insurance policies might not work that way.