By now, news has spread rampant that Seth Rogen and James Franco’s The Interview will not only not be released on Christmas this year, it may not be released at all.
Sony headquarters was hacked in a massive cyber attack on November 24 by a group known as the “Guardians of Peace”. Terabytes of data were breached and stolen as the hackers demanded that the Seth Rogen comedy not be released. The entire timeline of events illustrated how both the hackers and the media brought down a $50 million production in just a month.
On November 7, five Sony films (four of them not yet released) were dumped onto downloading hubs, including Annie (2014). Rumors began to circulate that North Korea, the butt of the joke of The Interview which told the story of an assassination plot on dictator Kim Jong-Un, was behind the attack.
On December 1, the pre-bonus salaries of Sony’s executives and 6,000 employees were leaked and immediately published by a variety of news outlets. In the next few days, more information was leaked including film budgets and confidential contracts, PDFs of passports of stars such as Angelina Jolie and Jonah Hill and user names and passwords of executives. The theft also breached the security of the consulting and auditing firm Deloitte and 30,000 of its employees salaries were posted.
On December 5, employees were sent an email threatening them and their families if they did not sign a statement repudiating the company. Three days later, another threat was issued if the film was shown. More confidential emails were released, including embarrassing racial comments towards President Obama made by Executive Amy Pascal that could end in her dismissal.
The film premiered in Los Angeles amid tight security on December 11, but more information was leaked soon thereafter, including medical records and more threats issued against Sony Pictures. On December 14, the script for the next James Bond film, Spectre, was leaked online. Two days later, the hackers promised “9/11 type” terror on theaters that released the film.
Soon, major theater chains including Landmark, AMC and Regal, pulled their plans on releasing the movie. With the theaters no longer planning on distribution and the New York premiere recently cancelled, Sony announced that they were cancelling the Christmas release of the film. Shortly thereafter, they clarified that they indeed have no future distribution plans for the film at all.
The entire situation has been made worse by a media out for scoop and not handling the hacking fairly. As intimate details were released about Sony, these secrets were reported. News stories fed the damage by highlighting company politics and spreading the racially-sensitive emails. In effect, the media helped the hackers, now surely North Korean officials, incur the destruction they were looking for.
Sony’s decision to entirely pull the film sets a terribly bad precedent for future attacks. Now, countries such as North Korea and others know that cyber attacks can be used as a means to an end perhaps not necessarily for national companies, but for private institutions. While the mess from the attacks will linger and the data breaching certainly is not over, from Sony giving in to hacker’s demands to the media exploiting the wreckage of classified emails to the inability to prevent cyberterrorism, the incident represents a fiasco for Hollywood and the government.
Already, plans for a Steve Carrel comedy that involved North Korea have been scrapped out of fear of a similar situation. What North Korea accomplished was an attack on American freedoms of speech and expression, and we are all paying the price for their ineptitude.