President Obama spoke at a news conference and expressed that Sony did the wrong thing when it backed down and pulled Seth Rogen and James Franco’s new movie, “The Interview” because of threats from North Korean hackers. “I wish they had spoken to me first,” President Obama said. He continued, “Sony’s a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced. Having said all that, yes I think they made a mistake.” Sony caved on its plans to release the movie this week after the hacking group threatened to attack movie theaters with reference to “9/11.” And now Sony has no further plans to release the film.
On Thursday evening, Sony executives received a private message from the hackers, letting them know they made a “very wise: decision in cancelling the release of the movie. The private message read, “Now we want you never let the movie released, distributed or leaked in any form of, for instance, DVD or piracy,” adding “And we want everything related to the movie, including its trailers, as well as its full version down from any website hosting them immediately.”
President Obama’s bold statement (bolder than he’s been about systematic racism and police brutality) came hours (also quicker than he spoke about Ferguson) after the FBI announced North Korea’s responsibility for the cyberattack on Sony. The hackers have been publishing private emails between executives, where they not only bad-mouth some of Hollywood’s biggest stars (Angelina Jolie, Kevin Hart and Kanye West, among others) but they also have some pretty racist opinions on these stars, our President and many other topics in entertainment. Their latest attack was centered around the “The Interview,” a comedy where Rogen and Franco attempt to carry out an assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
U.S. officials also tell CNN the hackers routed the attack through servers in countries from Asia, Europe and Latin America, even some in the U.S.
President Obama was passionate about this issue and was clearly upset that Sony caved the way they did. He said, “If somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary they don’t like, or news reports they don’t like. 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’s about.”
Former Sen. Chris Dodd, the Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, released a statement saying, “A group calling itself the ‘Guardians of Peace’ claimed responsibility for the attack and subsequently issued threats against SPE, its employees, and theaters that distribute its movies.” They added, “The FBI will identify, pursue, and impose costs and consequences on individuals, groups, or nation states who use cyber means to threaten the United States or U.S. interests.”
“We will respond, we will respond proportionally, and in a place and time that we choose. It’s not something that I will announce here today at this press conference,” President Obama said.
“Sony Pictures Entertainment is and always has been strongly committed to the First Amendment. For more than three weeks, despite brutal intrusions into our company and our employees’ personal lives, we maintained our focus on one goal: getting the film The Interview released. Free expression should never be suppressed by threats and extortion.
The decision not to move forward with the December 25 theatrical release of The Interview was made as a result of the majority of the nation’s theater owners choosing not to screen the film. This was their decision.
Let us be clear – the only decision that we have made with respect to release of the film was not to release it on Christmas Day in theaters, after the theater owners declined to show it. Without theaters, we could not release it in the theaters on Christmas Day. We had no choice.
After that decision, we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform. It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so.”