In his letter to the editor today (see letter titled North Korea deserves apology), Gerald Lundquist makes a compelling case in support of the decision by Sony Pictures to refuse to release a new film, The Interview, a comedy starring Vancouver's Seth Rogen about a plot to assassinate the leader of North Korea.
Lundquist would like Prime Minister Stephen Harper to apologize on behalf of Rogen and U.S. President Barack Obama to apologize on behalf of Hollywood to the North Koreans. Obama wasn't sounding very apologetic Friday, however.
"We cannot have a society in which some dictatorship someplace can start imposing censorship," Obama said, calling Sony's decision "a mistake." Obama made his remarks a short time after the FBI accused North Korea of being responsible for a digital break-in to acquire numerous confidential documents from Sony and the threats from hackers to engage in terrorist attacks on movie theatres that would show the film.
Lundquist argues that a movie depicting the death of a real person, even if it is a foreign dictator, is distasteful. Even if that's the case, however, there are still plenty of powerful arguments to be made in favor of releasing the film.
There is the censorship point, made by George Clooney, who argued for The Interview's release "not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I'm not going to be told we can't see the movie. That's the most important part." Other actors, particularly Sean Penn, have taken Sony to task.
There's more than censorship at stake here but sovereignty as well. The North Korean government can restrict what its citizens see and hear on movie screens there but it has no jurisdiction to demand similar restrictions on the citizens of Canada, the United States or any other country.
Furthermore, there is a long history of killing off world leaders, by name, in books and movies. The most famous recent example was the 2006 British film Death of A President, a fictionalized investigative documentary set in 2008 about the assassination of George W. Bush in Chicago the year before. Made through the clever editing of archived news footage and some seamless digital special effects, the film shows how the new president, Dick Cheney, orders sweeping new powers for the government, the FBI, the CIA, the police and the military after a Syrian-born anti-war protester is convicted of Bush's death.
The documentary uncovers new evidence pointing to the real assassin being a Gulf War veteran who blames Bush for the death of his son, who was serving as a soldier in Iraq. Despite the evidence, the Syrian convict remains on death row and Cheney refuses to relinquish his powers.
Death of A President is a powerful statement about racial prejudice, how quickly politicians can exploit events for their own purposes and how willing reporters are to tell stories fed to them by government sources without question to get the scoop and break the story first.
Naturally, the movie was harshly criticized in the United States from politicians with both major parties, since it was their country being scrutinized and their president being killed. Then Senator Hillary Clinton called the movie "despicable."
The critics, however, recognized the film's artistic merits. According to Wikipedia, Death of A President won an International Emmy Award, the International Critics Prize at the Toronto Film Festival and the Banff Rockie Award at the Banff Television Festival.
The Interview is a comedy, however, but it's not the first to go after the leader of North Korea. The infamously distasteful comedy Team America: World Police, told with marionettes, reveals the North Korean leader to be an alien cockroach, who is in cahoots with numerous real Hollywood actors known from their liberal politics to take over the world. Most of those actors, including Clooney and Penn, are killed off in a huge battle scene.
In other words, Clooney and Penn have had the experience of seeing themselves killed on film (or at least a marionette version of themselves) and yet they still defend a movie that has the nerve to fictionally depict the death of a real person.
North Korea and its leaders have the same right as the citizens of the United States and Canada have when it comes to The Interview. If they want to see it, then don't go see it.