Tis the Season to Fight Censorship of Art! George R. R. Martin and 'The Interview'

The debacle surrounding the canceled release of "The Interview" ought to make us all think about the threat of censorship.

Sony Pictures' The Interview won't be showing in a theater near you, despite the efforts of one of Santa Fe's most popular literary figures. 

Following some much-publicized cyber-attacks and threats believed to have been sponsored by North Korea (the nation has officially denied involvement), several national theater chains told Sony Pictures they would not show the film, and Sony ultimately decided to cancel the release altogether. Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin stepped in and offered to screen the newly controversial film at his independent cinema in New Mexico.

Martin is a long-time Santa Fe resident who recently bought and renovated the old cinema art house in the Santa Fe Railyard district, called The Jean Cocteau Theatre. The Jean Cocteau has quickly become a neighborhood feature with a midnight movies, a full bar, sometimes musicians playing in the lobby, mimes and performers in the street, and long lines when they offer cool events, like actors from Game of Thrones who visit to talk about the cult TV show. This past Indian Market they also screened a series from The Sundance Institute’s Native American Program, and offer the theatre as a community venue.

Photo courtesy Four Directions Education Facebook page.

Martin’s comments came from his online journal, Not A Blog, where he expressed his astonishment at the "surreal" decision to can the movie after US intelligence officers connected North Korea to the attack, describing it as an act of "corporate cowardice". "It astonishes me that a major Hollywood film could be killed before release by threats from a foreign power and anonymous hackers. These gigantic corporations, most of which could buy North Korea with pocket change, are declining to show a film because Kim Jong Un objects to being mocked? The level of corporate cowardice here astonishes me. It's a good thing these guys weren't around when Charlie Chaplin made The Great Dictator. If Kim Jong Un scares them, Adolf Hitler would have had them sh**ting in their smallclothes."

"There are thousands of small independent theatres across the country, like my own, that would gladly screen The Interview, regardless of the threats from North Korea, but instead of shifting the film to those venues, Sony has cancelled its scheduled Christmas rollout entirely. For what it's worth, the Jean Cocteau Cinema will be glad to screen The Interview (assuming that Sony does eventually release the film for theatrical exhibition, rather than streaming it or dumping it as a direct-to-DVD release), should it be made available to us. Come to Santa Fe, Seth [Rogen], we'll show your film for you."

Another venue, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, offered to show The Interview and an old film, Team America: World Police, (a satirical animated film by the South Park creators in which a puppet of Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un's late father, plays the villain) but now Paramount has decided to withdraw Team America: World Police from exhibition. And Steve Carell’s new project for New Regency and Fox, Pyongyang, also about North Korea has been halted. Rachel Maddow commented on how this resembled the controversy over Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, when the major chains caved and refused to carry the book. So it’s the independents who are willing to stand up and show these now-censored properties but the national distributors won’t release them. Martin says there are over 39,600 theatres in the country; take out the major chains and there’s still thousands of screens that will offer to show the film. Satanic Verses, remember, became a bestseller despite the major chains dropping the title.

Martin had posted trailers for The Interview on his site, but then Sony pulled everything on YouTube about the film. Martin replaced it with a classic speech from an infamous "censored" South Park episode. You can help by watching or reading something that was once censored over the holidays! Cheers!

RELATED:Sherman Alexie: Ban My Book, Please! [Video]

Here's a list of films that have been banned or censored in various places: 17 Banned Films and What They Tell Us About the Power of Cinema (Indiewire). A number of books on Native themes have been banned, including Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and the recent anthology Rethinking Columbus. All make great stocking-stuffers.

Alex Jacobs
Santa Fe NM
December 22, 2014