Let us be very clear about Sony pulling The Interview from theaters: this is not a free speech issue. Never was. This is the story of good publicity spinning. Congratulations Sony, you won. Everyone was talking about you before, but now they are talking about what you want.
Summarizing the New York Times, Sony Pictures of America was hacked. Thousands of documents and a few films were leaked to the general public. Many of the documents were embarrassing for the senders as they spoke privately about subject matter to do with the company and their employees. Officials determined that the hackers were North Korean. Their possible motive being the new Seth Rogan & Evan Goldberg film The Interview which involves the killing of current real-life dictator/man-child Kim Jong-un.
The Interview is not the first film to fictionalize stories of real and current heads of state. Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator and most recently as Oliver Stone's W. for example. The Interview is not even the first to explore the subject matter of killing the head of North Korea, Trey Parker beat them by ten years. So what makes The Interview so different in this instance? Is it that North Korea has a different, possibly more sociopathic dictator who is less willing to be the global whipping boy? The re-make of Red Dawn used the North Koreans as the bad guy. Maybe Sony grew a social conscious and realized they were hurting the feelings of others? Or was it something else...
Since the hacking, Sony has slowly rolled the The Interview out for critics. Films are screened for critics based on how much confidence the studio has in the film. The more confidence the studio has, they will screen the film early and tell critics to hold off releasing reviews until the week the film is released. On the other hand, a film the studio has no confidence in will either never get screened for critics or dropped onto VOD where you are less liking to look at reviews before you drop $5 on Larry the Cable Guy's new joint. Films the studio know will appeal to certain demographics over others will screen for very specific critics, usually genre films for genre specific publications and websites.
Sony was slowly screening Interview for major critics for the first two weeks of December 2014. The results were middle of the road. Critics who had been kind to the films of Rogan & Goldberg before, were now not so charitable. The film was looking like it was in for a critical panning, which normally would not matter, but the film had a lot of competition on its December 25th release date as well as hold over of Hobbit: Return of the Moon. Granted, critical reception for a Rogan/Goldberg film really will not get keep fan away, but it will keep average viewers out. In addition to all this, major movie theater chains began to drop out of screening the film, fearing violence at their facilities. Nothing was going Sony's way and they probably saw the writing on the wall.
Suddenly, in what I can only imagine was truly the most inspired meeting between publicists and lawyers, Sony pulled the film, blaming it entirely on the North Korean hackers. As soon as Sony made this announcement, like the sheep we are, social media exploded. People claiming this is the end of their freedoms, much like they did when they found out that the McRib was only going to be a seasonal sandwich. All of our knee's collectively jerked and suddenly we all got Geo-political. “They can behead our journalists and missionaries”, we screamed “but we will be DAMNED if they are going to take 112 minutes of giggles away from us!”
What concerns me is the obnoxious fanboys that feel like a stoner comedy being delayed coming to theaters is a bigger crime than all the filmmakers world wide who are censored or bared by their own country form making their art. Where is the uproar for them? What we are witnessing is Sony perpetuating a state of fear to push their product. This is not letting the terrorists win. This is not a forfeiting of rights. This is not the United States of America's Government telling Sony to not put out their stoner comedy for fear of national security. This is the a privately owned company pulling a product they own off the selves waiting for the national conversation to come to a complete boil before they will release it.
The Interview will still make it theaters. You will just have to wait a little longer for it. In the mean time...