PEN American Center has said its piece on the Sony Pictures/Interview debacle, which ought after all be of interest to writers (screenwriters or otherwise) everywhere who struggle against censorship. The statement took the form of an open letter “from PEN to Michael Lynton, Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman and CEO re: The Interview.”
The open letter states that: “PEN is appalled at the intrusive, criminal and profoundly menacing reprisals and threats that Sony Pictures has endured as a result of producing and planning to distribute The Interview. PEN has long stood with writers and creators who have suffered assaults aimed to suppress the dissemination of their ideas. We believe firmly that violence is never justified as a reaction to speech, no matter how offensive that speech may be to some.”
PEN offers the benefits of its experience in dealing with the situation. “We extend our solidarity to Sony Entertainment, and offer our support in whatever form is useful to you and to all those involved in The Interview. The attack on Sony Pictures is an assault on the wider creative community; one that must be met with unity and resolve.” This includes actual arrangements to show the film. “PEN would be very pleased to arrange to screen The Interview publicly in New York or Washington, DC with appropriate security precautions. This is a genuine offer and one that we hope you will take seriously.”
PEN also takes its stand on the widely contested rumors that North Korea was behind the threats against Sony. “That the intervention of a foreign government that makes a mockery of intellectual freedom should determine what the American public can see and what American artists can produce is shocking; it puts us all under the sway of armed fundamentalism and intolerance.”
All this said, PEN does not explicitly criticize Sony Pictures for declining to screen The Interview, as many others have done, although it does urge what it takes to be the right course. “It is in solidarity and in an appeal to our shared appreciation of the importance of creative expression that we urge you to take swift action to fulfill your pledge to find a way to distribute The Interview. This work should be made widely available, proving that threats and intimidation will not win the day … If the decision to pull The Interview from all platforms stands, it will represent a lasting blow for free expression, emboldening would-be censors the world over.”
The decision by Sony Pictures to release The Interview at a selected number of cinemas in the U.S. on Christmas Day at least goes partway towards meeting PEN’s recommendations, although it still falls well short of a full theatrical release. For the time being, then, the whole incident appears to be at least a partial victory for the forces of repression.