The Interview: When White Privilege & American Arrogance Isn’t Enough
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, by now you’ve heard that Sony has canceled the release of its film The Interview starring Seth Rogen and James Franco:
[quote]“In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release. We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.
Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale – all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”[/quote]
Sony’s been reeling from a massive hack that has seen a lot of internal emails, personal information and company strategy and plans released. It's been huge. The US government is now saying that North Korea is behind these attacks. This all seems to have stemmed from Sony's plan to release The Interview despite repeated warnings from North Korea. The synopsis for The Interview is as follows:
[quote]Dave Skylark and producer Aaron Rapoport run the celebrity tabloid show "Skylark Tonight." When they land an interview with a surprise fan, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, they are recruited by the CIA to turn their trip to Pyongyang into an assassination mission.[/quote]
People (People in Hollywood, fans, political pundits, politicians, etc) are upset that Sony “caved to the hackers”. They think Sony should have stood by this movie and released it anyway. To them this is a huge attack on freedom of expression, art and comedy. “It’s setting a horrible precedent”. To them I say:
Are you fucking stupid?
This isn’t a win for the hackers or a defeat of freedom. It’s not setting a “dangerous precedence” (because it’s been done before). No, instead this is very simply a defeat of white privilege and punch in the gut to American arrogance. Americans (particularly white Americans) like to stand on their moral soapbox while at the same time repeatedly stepping over it themselves. It’s like how white America didn’t want to acknowledge the violence of police to black America until THEY deemed the Eric Garner case to be “worthy” enough (And even then there are plenty of them who still don't). American arrogance is known around the world. We (this country as a whole) sometimes think we’re the moral authority of the planet earth and the rest of the world is constantly giving us the Gary Coleman “Are you serious face?” Concerns and problems are only worth addressing if Americans care about them and even then, our ego will not allow us to care unless we then make the problem about us. The most recent example of this was the Ebola concern. Thousands of Africans died and it was nothing more than a punchline joke to Americans…until a doctor traveling back from Africa contracted it. Then all the sudden it was the “Ebola outbreak in America” or “US Must Deal with Ebola Crisis”. Because a single digit number of American citizens had Ebola NOW we as Americans could acknowledge it as an issue. I’ll be honest. I love being an American, I love my country but….we’re pretty much a country of douchebags. As a nation we’re horrible, arrogant, self centered and egotistical people.
Look, let me get this out of the way. I don’t condone these North Korean hackers exposing personal information and threatening violence. However, much like the “looting” in Ferguson, as a black man in America I fully understand that in order to get white America to address concerns of non-whites, something you have to literally or figuratively “burn a motherfucker down”. So while I don’t condone their methods, I fully understand why it had to go this far. Up until the hacking, Sony, Franco, Rogen and others were basically laughing at how offended North Koreans were that they were going forward with this movie. They continued mocking and laughing instead of acknowledging that North Korea had every right to be offended. Hell, Rogen wanted the death of Kim Jong-Un to be even MORE gruesome than it is in the current cut of the film. White privilege allowed him the comfort of believing he could do whatever he wanted and have the final laugh. Well, looks like they aren’t laughing anymore. And regardless of methods, every time white privilege and American arrogance gets chin checked, I have to tip my hat and smile a bit.
“But Kriss, it’s just a comedy, anything can be funny right?”
Glad you brought up that point. Let’ me explain somethings to you. First off, while I subscribe to the idea that anything can be funny, I also repeatedly point out the caveat that just because anything is up for grabs in the world of comedy, that does not come without consequences. Just because anything can be funny doesn’t mean it will be. Some of my favorite comedy is edgy, borderline (or down right) offensive comedy. I watch Adult Swim Shows like Squidbillies and Rick & Morty or things like South Park and American Dad. All those shows routinely cross the boundaries into offensive. But as crude as they can be, they’re also done in very clever and smart ways. Good satire and parody is actually very hard to do despite the fact that everyone tries to do it. People treat the words "comedy" and "satire" like they're the Contra Code of entertainment media; that if they just say "It's satire" that's all that needs to be said and they're absolved of responsibility for being offensive. Sorry, that's just not true. Let’s be honest here, there’s nothing clever or smart about the comedy of James Franco & Seth Rogen. I’ve seen enough films with the Franco & Rogen to know it’s about one step up from your typical dumb white frat house dude bro. On Twitter the other day I likened it to “James Franco & Seth Rogen spend an entire film talking about how not gay for each other they are as they physically hold each other’s dicks”. Maybe The Interview is different and they shock the world with something smart & clever but judging from the trailers (and the emails of Sony Execs themselves)…it’s typical Franco & Rogen. That means while it probably has some laughs, it’s also going to lean more heavily towards the offensive side than the funny. When you do edgy comedy or satire, you run the risk of it falling flat, being taken the wrong way or just flat out offending people. There are plenty of times that Trey Parker & Matt Stone fell flat with an episode of South Park. Do they complain and whine about how people want to silence them or do they just use that as motivation for their next attempt? Sometimes your offensive comedy just isn’t going to be a hit. That’s the risk you sign up for when you go through with it. Here’s the truth: James Franco & Seth Rogen aren’t funny enough to do a clever satirical comedy using a sitting head of state. If you’re going to use a sitting head of state in a movie like this, you need to use a scalpel not a hammer. That’s not The Interview. It reeks of white privilege that Rogen and Franco thought this was acceptable. As offensive as South Park can be, they’re very very good at using satire to actually make a point. When have you ever seen James Franco or Seth Rogen make a smart, clever comedy with a real point?
And before you claim that I’m just making assumptions, read what Sony Execs themselves say about this film. They all but admit that James Franco is the wrong person for this film. They admit the script falls apart. One of them even admits it's really only good for selling Katy Perry records. Normally I would say that I would need to see the film first to agree with these assessments except: These perfectly describe what we have seen from Franco and Rogen in the past. I’ll be honest, you might be able to convince me that Rogen teamed up with another actor (perhaps a real comedian) would have been able to pull off this movie. Because then Rogen would be forced to act instead of falling back into his typical dude bro banter Franco. But with the “Dude Bro Dynamic Duo”? No. I feel like Dennis Green: They are who we thought they were.
Now let’s also take a second and point out how Sony brought this on themselves by violating a well known but undocumented rule in movies:
No Active Heads of State.
Let me explain this. There are movies where the current President or head of state of a country is mentioned. Sometimes they even show news reel footage from a real event. For instance, if you’re doing a zombie movie, you might see the film open up with news clips of various heads of states talking about some unspecified disaster. But almost never is an active head of state put into a movie in a fictional situation as an actual character in a movie and certainly not one where the plot of the movie is to assassinate them in a gruesome way. Doing so is just a violation of an unspoken rule and is going to cause problems. Again, Sony KNEW this. Read the email exchanges between Sony Execs from different parts of the world. They openly discuss how this movie would play in different parts of the world. South Korea flatly says they would have to pass on this (understandably). China says they’re not sure how it would go but they’d definitely have to change some parts for it to work. It’s almost unanimous that they all think its not that funny and could be a very hard sell. Still not getting it? Fine...watch the death scene yourself then. Watch that, then replace Kim Jong-un with your favorite American President or politician and tell me it's not cringe worthy. Personally? With President Obama already getting ridiculous amounts of threats, the White House already being breached and shot up...yeah, I wouldn't be able to find the humor in this.
“But Kriss, it’s just a movie"
When I first wrote this draft I was going to agree with that above statement but after thinking and writing, I have to say "No it's more than JUST a movie." If it was "just a movie" Sony would have used a FICTIONAL head of state just like every other movie normally does. They didn't and didn't on purpose. So now they clearly were trying to make a statement. By putting Kim Jong-Un in this film, they were purposely trying to make the film more about the shock value than the quality of the film. When you make a live action film and start putting in actors to play real sitting heads of state, you run the risk of dabbling in real world foreign policy and most film makers who are making a good film don't want to do that. Let’s not be naive. Hollywood is known for making political statements both domestic and foreign with its movies. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of history knows that Hollywood has dabbled in propaganda for the United States Government on several occasions. There have been plenty of articles and books about the the relationship of Hollywood and the Government. We’ve had celebrities act as spies for this country. As citizens of this country we have the luxury (and privilege) to look at it as “just a movie”, but outside of this country, these things are viewed very differently and for good reason. So I completely understand why North Korea isn’t happy. While we see it as “just a movie”, North Korea, a country where everything is under government control, just sees this movie as an extension of the United States government. And while in this time that’s not the case, history tells us there's enough examples of it being true that it could easily be viewed as such. So no...it's not "just a movie".
While the film might not be direct “American propaganda” it reeks of American greed and opportunism. Why do you think they pick North Korea instead of some other country? The United States and North Korea are not on very good terms. And Hollywood has been taking advantage of that for the last several years. While the tensions between North Korea and the United States are very real, Hollywood sees an opportunity to cash in on fear and controversy. When they remade Red Dawn they made the enemy North Korea. Same with Olympus Has Fallen. I know the North Koreans also weren’t happy with the Red Dawn remake. I’m not sure about Olympus but its clear that Hollywood has been repeatedly poking a hornet’s nest with North Korea and this time they got stung. And I’m not shedding a tear.
Remember how I mentioned American arrogance won’t let this country admit a problem or being at fault unless we can claim victim hood as well? Well this is no different. Once again America is crying foul because something we’ve done before is being done to us. In 2006, an independent “mockumentary” called Death of a President was set to be release. The film was a fake documentary about solving the assassination of President George W. Bush. Yes, it was about the theoretical killing of our then President. Citizens of this country were PISSED. Folks who know me and remember The Insanity Report and my writings there know I was no fan of George W. Bush but even this was in bad taste to me. Gretchen Esell "I find this shocking, I find it disturbing. I don't know if there are many people in America who would want to watch something like that.” Hillary Clinton commented "I think it's despicable. I think it's absolutely outrageous. That anyone would even attempt to profit on such a horrible scenario makes me sick.” Fun fact: Cinemark & Regal theaters refused to show the movie. Because this was back before Twitter, I’m willing to bet if Twitter was the social media powerhouse it is today, every major theater chain in America would have dropped the film. Mind you, this was an independent film that wasn't made or distributed by any major studio. Yet the way we reacted you would have thought Disney was distributing it world wide.
‘But Kriss, we didn’t hack anyone or threaten violence’
Ehhhh. Maybe not in that instance but the film is a French film and I remember all of this country’s pettiness with France because France didn’t support our invasion of Iraq. I remember changing french fries to ‘freedom fries’ and french toast to ‘freedom toast’. I remember seeing politicians gleefully pour out good French wine all in the name of “standing by our president” and “Go America!!!”. See, not only are we arrogant but when it comes to the rest of the world not agreeing with us, we turn into petty spoiled children whenever we feel slighted.
Need more examples? Remember the outrage when the History Channel during its miniseries The Bible had the devil portrayed by an actor that people thought looked to much like Obama?
It was such a big deal the makers of the mini-series ended up cutting the devil out of the related movie Son of God.
Oh but why stop there my fellow Americans? See, as we chastise North Koreans for being mad at a bad film for gruesomely killing their current leader, we here in this country actually get mad at FICTIONAL characters whenever their race is changed. Remember when Rue (who apparently IS black in the books) was cast as a little black girl in The Hunger Games? Or how about those upset that Quvenzhané Wallis is playing little orphan Annie now? And to flip it, Hollywood and a lot of white Americans (and a lot of people in this country) are stunningly silent when real injustice and inconsistencies are present. It’s funny how the leaked Sony emails reveal a lot of questionable statements from Sony execs on race, our current president, children and their own stars yet that’s not what got people up in an uproar. I’ve seen more comment from Hollywood on this stupid little movie having its release canceled than about the #BlackLivesMatter protests going on around the country. And while I hate doing a “You don’t care about x but you care about y”, I feel it’s appropriate here because people only care about the The Interview because it’s a blow to their privilege. It’s easy to say “America would never react this way” when it’s a fact America would never be put in a position where we’d have to react at all. Death of a President was a small, independent film that got a extremely small release and didn’t even make HALF of its budget back. Even on that small scale, America did NOT take that well. You’d never see Sony or any other major studio back a project like Death of a President or The Interview about a sitting US President. Again, the privilege of being American means we’d never be put in that position to begin with. So when it comes to The Interview being canceled, sorry…but not sorry it happened.
As I stated at the beginning of this, this is a defeat of white privilege and American arrogance. The privilege and arrogance are the same “Do as I want you to do not as I do myself” that I see daily as a black man living in America. So no, while I do not condone the threats of violence or the invasion of privacy of of people…I have to smile a little bit at karma coming back to bite Franco, Rogen and Sony in the ass. I don’t have to kill them for it, but I don’t have to save them either.
And no...I'm not worried that this will happen again to a popular and anticipated filme like Avengers Age of Ultron or Star Wars. See good movies don't have to rely on gimmicks and cheap laughs. This wouldn't happen with an actual quality film because everyone from the stars to the studio would have stood behind it to make sure it was well received and that includes avoiding the obvious mistakes Sony did here. I'm not going to lose sleep over The Interview and you shouldn't either.
Sony has released The Interview after all on VOD and in participating theaters. The reviews are what I expected. Most say the movie isn't that good but are giving it higher than normal grades for what I'm just going to chalk up to patriotism. See the film if you must but don't expect a review here. As I said in this article, I've seen enough of James Franco & Seth Rogen's dudebro routine to know it's not for me.