Sony's decision to cancel The Interview in the face of threats is already affecting the way Hollywood does business, and it's killing artists' faith in studios to release envelope-pushing content.
Gore Verbinski said Fox pulled out of plans to support his North Korea-set thriller, and theatres that planned to screen 2004's Team America: World Police in place of The Interview announced Thursday those showings had been cancelled.
Actors, filmmakers, politicians and pundits roundly denounced Sony's decision to nix The Interview, which the studio did Wednesday in response to theatre owners' refusal to show the Christmas release in light of threats invoking Sept. 11. The comedy stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as journalists tasked by the CIA with killing Kim Jong-un. The film shows the North Korean leader dying in a fiery explosion.
- Sony cancels theatrical release of The Interview after threats
"Sad day for creative expression," Steve Carell tweeted.
Artists could increasingly turn to the web as a way to distribute content without studio interference, amplifying a challenge the industry is already facing with audiences consuming more entertainment at home. Lizz Winstead, a creator of The Daily Show, suggested the creative community may have to go even further.
"Do performers and artists need to start buying theatres so we aren't beholden to the multiplexes now?" she asked. "I feel like if this is the message from the studios, what is going to be the action for all of us who see how profoundly we can all just be cut off at the knees."
Silencing creative expression in response to terrorists' demands stifles the very thing art seeks to explore, she said.
"So now, creatively, when we can't respond as a catharsis, as a reflection of where society's at, because somebody can intimidate the creative process, what are we gonna be stuck with?"
But Todd Boyd, film and culture professor at the University of Southern California, said it was naive of Sony to proceed with the film without expecting some blowback from the North Korean government. Free speech is an American value, not a North Korean one, he said.
"It's provocative to make a film where a living figure is assassinated, in spite of what you may think about that figure," Boyd said. "To do so in a comedy seems especially arrogant and inconsiderate and naive, and as it turned out, Sony had to pay the price for making a bad decision."
Other studios are likely to carefully consider films that take swipes at the reclusive nation, he said.
Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin blasted the studio and the media at large for their reactions to the Sony hack.
"Today the U.S. succumbed to an unprecedented attack on our most cherished, bedrock principle of free speech by a group of North Korean terrorists who threatened to kill moviegoers in order to stop the release of a movie," he said in a statement Wednesday. "The wishes of the terrorists were fulfilled in part by easily distracted members of the American press who chose gossip and schadenfreude-fuelled reporting over a story with immeasurable consequences for the public."
Of course, the most damaging corporate hacking in American history has implications far beyond Hollywood. Is it OK to joke about it?
"The Interview is now poised to shatter the world record for 'spite viewings,"' comedian Patton Oswalt wrote on Twitter. He later added: "All joking aside, we just gave a comfy foothold to censorship & it doesn't get any better from this point on."