Unless you’ve spent the winter in hibernation – which would likely mean you’re a bear, and really shouldn’t be able to read this website – chances are that you’re well aware of the controversy surrounding the release (or lack thereof) of the Sony Pictures comedy The Interview.
Starring frequent comedic collaborators Seth Rogen and James Franco, the satirical film centers on two TV reporters who land an exclusive interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and are then tasked by the CIA with assassinating the volatile dictator. The Interview was originally scheduled to release wide on Christmas Day, but was of course temporarily shelved following threats made by a hacker group later believed to be part of the North Korean government. The resulting backlash led Sony to reverse course and distribute the film to whatever theaters were willing to screen it, along with several online streaming and VOD platforms.
As you might imagine, all the turmoil caused by this unexpected turn of events has created more hype for The Interview than the film had managed to garner on its own, with many Americans expressing a desire to see the film as a way to stick it to North Korea and defend freedom of artistic expression. That result was obvious the moment Sony initially decided to pull the movie from its calendar. Telling people they can’t have something only makes them want it more. What many never expected is the currently burgeoning demand to see The Interview among the North Korean people.
According to Free North Korea Radio – an online station operated by defectors from the country’s oppressive regime – North Koreans are willing to pay as much as $50 for a pirated copy of The Interview. That is nearly ten times what the average South Korean TV show goes for on the DVD black market, and fully illustrates just how much knowledge of The Interview’s existence has managed to penetrate Kim Jong Un’s carefully crafted walls of silence.
For a strongman dictator like Kim to maintain control over his people, it’s absolutely vital that the flow of information be controlled and contained to only what jibes with the bizarre narrative offered to the North Korean people about their “dear leader.” A western comedic production that both lampoons and exposes Kim Jong Un as a worldwide laughingstock would serve to undermine the iron grip he maintains over the populace, something he is clearly unwilling to let happen.
The North Korean government has taken steps to keep the “offending” film out of the hands of its people, ramping up security checks going both in and out of the country’s borders, and placing a temporary ban on the importation of any kind of American made movie by its various black market dealers. Of course, the chances of keeping The Interview out of North Korea forever are slim, as anti-government activists are already devising ways to get unsanctioned copies of the film into the hands of average North Koreans.
Will a mid-budget Hollywood comedy by the guys who did Pineapple Express serve to bring down Kim Jong Un? No, probably not. Still, it could very well make his job a lot harder, and his daily life a lot less pleasant. It’s hard to find anything wrong with that result.
The Interview is currently screening in select theaters around the U.S., and is also available to rent on various VOD outlets.