One Association’s Role in The Interview Crisis

Sony's unprecedented decision to cancel all screenings of the Seth Rogen comedy The Interview came after major movie theater chains decided not to screen the film. Those decisions came soon after the association that represents the theaters spoke up.

Sony’s unprecedented decision to cancel all screenings of the Seth Rogen comedy The Interview came after major movie theater chains, armed with the support of the association that represents them, decided not to screen the film.

With an international diplomatic crisis at play, it only makes sense that NATO would get involved. But it’s not the NATO you’re thinking of—it’s the other one.

The National Association of Theatre Owners this week played a key role in its members’ deciding whether to screen The Interview, the North Korea-skewering film at the center of the ongoing Sony hacking incident. Here’s how:

Hackers’ threat: On Monday, the Guardians of Peace, the group that has claimed responsibility for the recent hack of Sony Pictures, tied the data breaches to the release of The Interview for the first time, issuing a threat to moviegoers. “Remember the 11th of September 2001,” the statement said. “We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places [showing the fim] at that time.”

The North Korea connection: Since the cryptic threat was made, U.S. officials for the first time linked the group’s actions to the North Korean government. Many had speculated that North Korea was behind the incident because The Interview features  a plot in which North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is assassinated. The death scene from the film, which had reportedly been greatly debated internally by Sony officials, leaked online this week.

Where NATO came into play: In a statement on the issue Thursday, the association said it was working with law enforcement authorities on the veiled threats to moviegoers. NATO officials noted that it didn’t want to make the decision for its theater owners and wouldn’t stand in their way. “We are encouraged that the authorities have made progress in their investigation and we look forward to the time when the responsible criminals are apprehended,” the group wrote [PDF]. “Until that happens, individual cinema operators may decide to delay exhibition of the movie so that our guests may enjoy a safe holiday movie season experiencing the many other exciting films we have to offer.”

How theaters responded: Soon after NATO made its statement, a number of its corporate members decided not to screen the film—a move that Sony Pictures said would not affect its existing contracts with them. In its statement, Regal Entertainment cited the “wavering support” for the film, as well as the “ambiguous nature of any real or perceived security threats.” Now that Sony has shelved the movie, it’s not clear whether the film will see a later video-on-demand release, though the studio reports to USA Today suggest it’s not likely.

"The Interview" stars Seth Rogen and James Franco. (Sony Pictures)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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