“The Interview” is the latest of Hollywood’s parodies on foreign leaders.
Charlie Chaplin’s more elegant 1940 satire “The Great Dictator” parodies Adolf Hitler without using his name or the name of his country.
In 2004, Paramount Pictures released the satire “Team America” making fun of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, also without using his name.
In 2012, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen -- known for his artistic brazenness -- portrayed a vulgar Middle Eastern dictator, a composite of corrupt leaders from the region, in “The Dictator.”
But Sony’s “The Interview” -- in which a celebrity reporter and his producer are recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un -- is the first American flick in which a real-life sitting dictator is ridiculed.
North Korea called the movie “an act of war,” and hackers hit Sony with a massive cyberattack -- blamed on North Korea -- posting embarrassing emails and other private data. There were threats against theaters showing the film.
Film touched a nerve
Victor Cha of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said the film touched a nerve in Pyongyong.
“In a sense" Cha explained, "[movies are] almost more invasive than Western economic sanctions, military exercises, because they can always rally the people around Western hostility. But Western ridicule is harder for them to rally their people around because it raises questions about the leadership.”
The cyberattack against Sony has rattled Hollywood economically and culturally and contributed to some reactive self-censorship. Originally, Sony had planned to pull the comedy from its national and international release on Christmas Day. Paramount pictures canceled the re-release of “Team America” and New Regency films canceled a film project on North Korea set to begin in March with comedian Steve Carell.
Hollywood celebrities such as Mia Farrow, Michael Moore and George Clooney have criticized Sony’s self-censorship.
President Barack Obama said that Sony “made a mistake” in pulling the film.
At a press conference, Obama said, “We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States.”
Some film critics who have seen the comedy haven't been kind either.
They describe the film as sophomoric and vulgar, and some have questioned Hollywood’s smugness in ridiculing other cultures … especially when those cultures don't get the joke.
Cha points to this cultural disconnect, saying, “That’s something they are not used to because they portray an image inside their country of how the North Korean leadership, the family, is really the closest thing to God."
Sony announced Tuesday afternoon “The Interview” will be shown in a limited release on Thursday, but Hollywood’s soul-searching on where to draw the line between its artistic freedom of expression and its excessive parodying of other cultures may have just begun.