Editorial Board

It's Your Civic Duty to See a Seth Rogen Movie

Source: AFP PHOTO/STR

"The Interview" is an outstanding example of Hollywood's most popular genre: Movies That Should Never Have Been Made. That said, theaters that are pulling the film due to threats of terrorism should stiffen their spines.

The movie, from Sony Corp., features Seth Rogen and James Franco as journalists who assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. From the start, it was an obviously bad idea. North Korea, with predictable belligerence, said it constituted an "act of war." Sony executives and distributors around the world found the film vulgar, dimwitted and "desperately unfunny," which in today's Hollywood is really saying something.

Yet Sony pressed ahead, and now it's suffering arguably the worst cyberattack in corporate history, which hardly seems like a coincidence. Although the perpetrators haven't been identified, plenty of signs point to North Korea -- not least that the hackers have expressed an improbably vehement hatred of "The Interview." This week, they even threatened violence against theaters that show the movie.

Two companies, Carmike Cinemas and Landmark Theatres, have already caved and pulled the movie. Others may soon follow. They're setting an awful precedent. Giving in to such threats only increases the likelihood of more intimidation. And what if, next time, the film in question isn't a dopey buddy comedy but something more serious -- a movie, say, that criticizes another autocratic regime with an enthusiasm for cyberattacks? That's a dangerous road to travel, especially in response to a threat that experts consider deeply farfetched.

If the theater companies can't summon the marginal bravery required to show this film, then Sony should stand behind its work. It should release "The Interview" online, and offer it to the world as a gesture of defiance and artistic liberty.

That might serve as a useful experiment in distribution methods. More important, it would send a message that freedom of speech -- even, and especially, dumb and distasteful speech -- remains absolute in the U.S. It would affirm the principle that terrorism should never be appeased. And it just might allow Sony's executives to emerge from this awful episode with a scrap of dignity intact.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.