The Sony Studios hack-attack was catnip for the masses as long as it was just snarky emails between studio executives trashing their biggest stars.
Stolen emails referred to Angelina Jolie as “minimally talented” and Leonardo DiCaprio as “despicable.” We now know Tom Hanks registers at hotels under the name “Johnny Madrid,” while Sony executives themselves are baffled why they made so many Adam Sandler movies.
It’s all good clean fun until someone loses an eye, right?
But then an email surfaced revealing Sony Co-Chairman Amy Pascal’s implicitly racist exchange with uber-producer Scott Rudin, “speculating” on which movies President Obama might enjoy: “12 Years a Slave.” “Django Unchained,” etc., films with prominent African-American themes.
Pascal’s email confirmed what millions always suspected, that behind closed doors powerful whites harbor condescending and derogatory opinions of blacks, even an African-American president they enthusiastically support.
The buzz quickly flipped from Hollywood gossip to Hollywood hypocrisy with the hacker group “The Guardians of Peace” promising a “Christmas present.”
That “present” turned out to be a terror threat against any theater exhibiting the Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy, “The Interview,” a film whose plot revolves around a CIA scheme to murder Kim Jong-un, the pudgy, possibly insane “Dear Leader” of North Korea.
There’s a plot twist nobody saw coming.
Suddenly the Sony story is a major international incident, the most damaging cyber-terror attack in history, and a political, military and free speech issue without precedent.
Lawyers and insurance carriers representing major theater chains and malls called Sony telling them, in essence, “Not in our theater, you don’t!”
And who can blame them?
In hyper-litigious America, where people will sue you if they don’t like which side of your head you part your hair on, what responsible attorney is going to advise his client to show a movie that could get his theater blown up and his customers murdered?
Late last week Sony raised the white flag and pulled the plug on “The Interview,” handing North Korea its greatest victory since the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir 64 years ago.
The cyber-attack against Sony raises countless questions for America, like how could this have happened? How should we respond? And who’s next?
By canceling “The Interview,” Sony and the major theater chains have virtually guaranteed other terror groups will follow suit and try to silence films, TV shows, newspapers or books they find objectionable.
Angelina Jolie’s soon-to-be released “Unbroken” is already under fire in Japan for its brutal, yet accurate, depiction of Japan’s horrific treatment of American POWs during World War II, specifically the late, great “Torrance Tornado,” Louis Zamperini. What happens if a rogue group decides “Unbroken” shouldn’t be seen?
Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban object to everything Hollywood does. In fact, jihadists would like nothing more than to wipe Hollywood off the map.
Author Salman Rushdie spent years underground after a fatwa was put on his head following the 1988 publication of his book, “The Satanic Verses.” A Danish cartoon mocking the prophet Mohammad not only generated death threats, it spooked newspapers and television news producers out of showing the cartoon even in the context of the story they were covering.
Google’s China subsidiary is heavily censored by a Communist government that employs 2 million search engine monitors looking for “subversives” seeking information about the Tiananmen Square massacre and other embarrassments.
It’s absolutely vital the Hollywood community fight to protect the rights of filmmakers from foreign attack; but what about domestic censorship? Censorship under the banner of political correctness is an even greater threat to free expression.
Last year the Associated Press banned the use of the terms “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant” in news articles. The federal government has removed trademark protection from the Washington Redskins football team over objections by some Native American groups. Countless school districts have rebranded “Christmas” vacations as “winter” vacations, and the fear of offending anyone has scrubbed mangers and menorahs from town squares from Santa Monica to Sarasota.
Meanwhile some fundamentalist Christian groups want broadcasters fined for presenting shows they find objectionable.
Americans have no business telling other Americans what they can say, see, read or hear.
While we correctly recoil at the idea of censorship imposed at the barrel of a gun, we should be more concerned at our willingness to surrender our right to free expression rather than be accused of insensitivity.
There are worse things in life than hurt feelings.
Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sunday and Wednesday. He can be reached at Doug@KABC.com.