The year is 1940. Adolf Hitler is at the zenith of his power. Having conquered multiple European territories and formed multiple international alliances, the German dictator is seen as the most dominant leader in the world.
Charlie Chaplin – Hollywood’s most dominant leader – decides to release a film that pokes fun at Hitler’s rise. Titled “The Great Dictator,” the release was one of the most daring in cinematic history. A comical piece on Hitler during his massive rampage seemed ill-timed, to say the least.
Of course, studio leaders were nervous. They thought this type of film would jeopardize European distribution for not just the Chaplin release, but all films to follow. Hitler and his allies may not look too kindly at the studio system using their personas for humor and put a ban on Hollywood products in general.
Chaplin himself became concerned his production may be put on the shelf if enough entertainment voices were critical of the film hitting theaters. At the height of Hollywood’s panic, Chaplin received a call from then-President Franklin Roosevelt. He assured the legendary filmmaker to have no fear; the film would be distributed. He would see to it. He thought it was a very important project Americans needed to see.
“The Great Dictator” would go on to be a box office smash and boast strong reviews that produced multiple Oscar nominations, including a Best Picture nod. Today, Chaplin’s first all-talking picture is remembered fondly for its courage. Had studios given into their financial and personal cowardice, it may have never been seen by generations of film-goers.
Flash-forward to 2014, and a new film threatening a global power is getting ready to roll. “The Interview,” which takes shots at North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, hits theaters on Christmas Day.
Well, maybe. Earlier this week, Sony backed away from the release. The New York premiere was canceled, and reports began to surface the studio told movie theater owners it was “up to them” as to whether they would show the film or not in their theaters. All of this comes after a fresh threat from hackers who claimed they would carry out “9-11-esque attacks” on theaters who opted to show the film Christmas Day. These same hackers have slowly – and embarrassingly – been releasing personal information from Sony’s servers over the last few weeks in retaliation for the studio’s decision to distributed the James Franco-Seth Rogen collaboration.
Speaking for myself, I will gladly pay money to see “The Interview” in theaters, and I will do so without fear. The real shame here is – unlike in Chaplin’s day – studios have given into fear and are preparing to scratch out most of the impact the film could have had.
Where are the brave studio leaders saying, “We’re not going to give into some sad hackers who want to embarrass us”? Where are public office holders like FDR ensuring the creativity of a group of American filmmakers? Sorry, you just won’t find them.
Yes, we do live in a more global society. It’s a lot easier to attack a company or a country now through digital and viral means than it once was. However, the principles are still the same, aren’t they? At least they should be. This is artistic integrity from a group of our citizens, and instead of standing behind their voices, we’ve got studios and others looking to silence them.
We’ve still got those too scared of terror. We’ve still got those too horrified of offending anyone else, even if it’s fictional satire. The same people who are rarely concerned of their own ramblings online are now worried a film release will ruffle the wrong feathers.
If only Chaplin were still here. Then, perhaps, the team behind “The Interview” would have an entertainment advocate willing to stand with them.