Brow Beat

Sony Really Should Release The Interview Online, and Soon

Detail from the poster for The Interview from Columbia Pictures

Update, Dec. 17, 5:06 p.m.: It’s official. Sony has pulled The Interview from theatrical release. Here’s the full statement:

In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release. We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.

Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale – all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.

The fallout from the Sony hacks continues. The New York premiere of The Interview was canceled after threats to theaters from the alleged hackers, who have focused their ire on the big-budget comedy with the Kim Jong-un assassination plot. The film’s stars, Seth Rogen and James Franco, have canceled all upcoming media appearances, and at least one major theater chain, Carmike Cinemas, has pulled the film from its roster completelyUpdate, Dec. 17, 2:59 p.m.: The Wall Street Journal reports that Regal Entertainment Group, AMC Entertainment Holdings, and Cinemark Holdings, Inc. have joined Carmike in the decision to cancel screenings of the film. This is a huge blow for Sony: “Together,” Erich Schwartzel and Ben Fritz explain, “the four chains control more than 18,000 of North America’s approximately 40,000 movie screens.”

NPR reports that the Department of Homeland Security is investigating the credibility of these threats. But at this point, Sony has to choose the best course of action from a set of bad options and simply release The Interview online—as soon as it can.

People started floating this idea more than a week ago, but it has picked up momentum in the wake of the latest threats, with screenwriter Arash Amel and BuzzFeed’s Matthew Zeitlin both suggesting it on Twitter last night. On Wednesday morning The Verge made the case.

And they’re right: By releasing The Interview on demand, Sony will allow the public to view the film (or not) without the fear of any possible retaliation at a movie theater. And it will make clear to those behind the hacks and the threats that they cannot force censorship of this film. It may be a goofy comedy, but it is still expression, and Sony should stand behind its right to exist.

Granted, we don’t know all the details about the threats against Sony. The New York Times has reported that those threats have included some made against the families of Sony employees. But Sony is said to be considering a rush to Video on Demand already, with the hope of releasing the film “on as many screens as possible.” It’s worth noting, too, that rushing to VOD could involve rewriting contracts, and “would not be an easy pivot,” as the Examiner points out.

Whatever the legal and technical details, The Interview is now embroiled in a fight for free speech—even for those who had no intentions of seeing it in the first place. And if Sony charges a little money for people to stream the movie, allowing viewers to take a stand with their wallets (and from the comfort of their own homes), Sony might even come out ahead in the end. Either way, getting the film out into the world is the right thing to do.