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Is censorship the best form of promotion?

The Interview film poster

Last November, the computer system of Sony Pictures Entertainment was hacked by the so-called ‘Guardians of Peace’ group, making public confidential information about the company and its employees.

The cyber attack came as retaliation for the upcoming release of The Interview, a satirical comedy about North Korea’s very mockable leader Kim Jong Un. Following threats of serious terrorist attacks on cinemas, Sony eventually pulled the plug on the film’s theatrical release. So who won?

Giving in?

Sony’s decision to withdraw the film came across as giving in to terrorist demands. In a press conference following the announcement, President Obama expressed the view that Sony made a mistake, adding ‘We cannot have a society in which some dictator in some place can start imposing censorship in the United States.’ A big blow for free speech on the surface. Or was it?

Indeed, the controversy had a very predictable effect on public curiosity around the film. While I was at best intrigued when I first heard of it, I became determined to watch the film once it became a tricky proceeding (or a political act, or perhaps a child-like reaction to being told ‘no’ some might even argue). After all, it’s not everyday that a government strongly opposes a cheap laugh based comedy, and describes it as an act of war..

Nothing new

Many people felt the same way, and acted accordingly. For instance, a cinema in Dallas planned to hold a free screening of of Team America: World Police, which satirizes Kim Jong-Un’s equally mockable father Kim Jong-il, in place of its previously scheduled screening of The Interview. 

The interest and excitement around the film’s censorship is hardly something new, and there are plenty of cases where banning works of art (not that The Interview ought to fall under such label) increased interest. From the banning of jazz music in numerous countries in the earlier parts of the 20th century to that of the Da Vinci Code in the Vatican and other strongly Christian countries, there’s always a must-see factor about banned work.

Not that good

So was this enforced censorship really that successful, or was it the promotion no PR department ever could’ve matched? Ultimately, it’s hard to say whether The Interview would have been more watched and profitable had it been released in a traditional manner. Having said that, it’s safe to guess it would have received far less coverage in different circumstances, and as a result now occupies an odd place in cinematographic history (but a place nonetheless..)

On 24th December, Sony made The Interview available for online rent and purchase. In total, it earned $40 million in digital rentals, making it Sony’s most successful digital release ever.

Worst thing is, the film really isn’t that good..

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