Sony Studio Head Says Racial Jokes Haven’t Sapped SupportAnousha Sakoui, Christopher Palmeri and Lucas Shaw
Sony Corp. film executive Amy Pascal said she retains the support of Chief Executive Officer Kazuo Hirai even after being criticized for racial jokes that targeted President Barack Obama.
Pascal, in a phone interview, said she hasn’t offered to resign and didn’t want the cyber-attack that exposed thousands of internal documents to be defined by private e-mails that wound up in the press. She’s focused on leading her staff and making movies, even though the leaks exposed closely guarded contracts and insulted some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. She said Sony’s black employees would be disappointed in her.
“This horrible e-mail exchange does not, can’t be the way that people feel about me that have worked with me for 20 years,” said Pascal, who is co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment. “And you know what, I’ll have to earn their confidence back, too.”
Pascal’s e-mail account has produced some of the most revealing details from the hacking of Sony Pictures, many of which cast the 56-year-old executive in an unflattering light. She is seen waffling on whether to proceed with a project on Steve Jobs, then begging producer Scott Rudin to bring it back to Sony. In happier times, Pascal and Rudin joked cattily about which movies Obama might like, suggesting he favored the ones with black casts.
While both apologized -- Pascal called her own words “insensitive and inappropriate” -- the questions haven’t stopped. Shonda Rhimes, one of the most successful television producers in Hollywood, on Twitter called the exchanges “racist.”
The statements “reflect a lack of diversity in positions of power at major Hollywood studios,” the Reverend Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist, said in a statement. “Her apology isn’t enough.”
Pascal said she talked with Sharpton and apologized, and said he has every right to be upset.
“It was a stupid thing to say,” Pascal said of her e-mails.
At Sony, “they are very, very supportive and they feel really bad, and they’re doing whatever they can to help us,” Pascal said. “I don’t think that anybody thinks that this was anyone’s fault who works here, and I think continuity and support and going forward is what’s important now.”
A Sony spokesman in Tokyo declined to comment in an e-mailed response to questions about the company’s support of Pascal and whether anyone at the company will be held responsible for the breach.
When asked how the release of sensitive e-mails will affect her ability to conduct business, Pascal said, “It will be interesting. Everybody will know everything, so it will just all be the truth.”
In e-mail exchanges with Rudin in November 2013, Pascal suggested the first black president must like films starring people of his own race. Pascal, like many in Hollywood a donor to Democrats, asked Rudin for advice before attending a fundraiser hosted by DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Katzenberg.
“What should I ask the president at this stupid Jeffrey breakfast,” Pascal wrote in a Nov. 26, 2013, e-mail to Rudin.
“Would he like to finance some movies?” Rudin replied.
“I doubt it. Should I ask him if he liked DJANGO,” Pascal said, a reference to “Django Unchained,” Quentin Tarantino’s film about a former slave’s revenge.
“12 YEARS,” Rudin said, suggesting the future Oscar best picture winner, “12 Years a Slave,” before Pascal added: “Or the butler. Or think like a man?”
Pascal was also the biggest internal supporter of “The Interview,” the Seth Rogen project that may have spurred the hacking attack itself. The comedy, set for release on Dec. 25, follows a plot to kill North Korea leader Kim Jong Un. Cybersecurity consultants believe the attack was orchestrated by North Korea as payback for the film.
The hackers continued with their threats, releasing more internal Sony data, after requesting the studio halt its release plans for “The Interview.” Pascal, who was planning to attend the film’s premiere in Los Angeles last night, said there were no plans to pull or change the movie.
Sony will look to blame someone with a public profile, Laura Martin, an analyst with Needham & Co., said in an interview. Replacing senior executives responsible for technology and security will not be sufficient, she said.
“The tech person may have to lose his job on the substantive matter, but if they are firing Target’s CEO, there has to be a senior person who suffers from this,” Martin said, referring to Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel, who resigned in May after a data breach.