For a number of years, I have owned and operated movie theaters. Today, my partners and I have 25 screens in four Midwestern locations. We hope to have more soon. Why did I get into the theater business? Like millions of other people, I love the movies. I love the big marquee letters, the flashing neon, relaxing while chomping away on a box of hot buttery salty popcorn washed down with a sparkling soda. And as the hot light of projection flickers onto the big wide screen in that big dark room, I am still amazed and enchanted as characters become bigger than life. They steal your heart and just as easily break it. I get a lump in my throat each time I see the two words “Old Yeller”. It was the first movie I ever saw at the Esquire in my hometown and I never watched it again. In a lifetime, no one should have to cry that hard twice.
But, as we often remind ourselves, it’s only a movie.
That was until Kim Jong-un, the despotic tin pot dictator of North Korea, allegedly took offense to SONY Studio’s Christmas Day release of the movie The Interview, starring Seth Rogan and James Franco. This satirical comedy no one has seen evidently pokes fun at the despicable little round man in North Korea who must have acquired his hair style by sticking a finger into a socket.
According to American authorities, North Korea preempted the premiere of this motion picture by hacking into SONY’s vast computer hardware system. Thousands of confidential bits and pieces of information were purged for the world to see. Financial, medical and personal emails were usurped from SONY’s computer storage systems and exposed. Then, threats of unspecified terrorist attacks were issued against Americans and theater owners. Theaters showing the movie might be targeted with innocents injured or killed because the barbarous communist leader of North Korea did not approve of his characterization. He is supposedly assassinated toward the end of the flick, which would lead one to believe he should get a better agent.
I was surprised when local media outlets asked if we were going to show the movie at any of our theater locations. Of course we are or – were. “We are Americans and do not cower to terrorist threats. We have armed security and the safety of our customers is always upheld to the highest standards.”
If we refrained from showing The Interview, then what happens the next time some communist bastard or an ayatollah doesn’t like a script, a newly published book, a play or a concert venue? If they threaten us and get away with it, the copycats will be in tow. Can you imagine our forefathers bowing to such threats? We know what Americans are made of – right?
However, before we had time to return the reporter’s calls, several larger chains of movie theaters announced they would not run the flick no one had yet seen. More and more chains jumped into the fray. It was suggested we should reconsider our decision to run the movie Christmas Day as not only would customer turnout be low but employees might stay away, fearful of becoming victims. But it did not matter what we were determined to do because SONY canceled the premiere of The Interview.
In its place, theaters were going to show “Team America: World Police”; a successful 2004 comedy by the creators of “South Park.” But that excitement soon faded, too, as the owner of the movie, Paramount Pictures, refused to allow theaters the chance to exhibit it. That movie also satirically depicted the ruler of North Korea and I suppose Paramount did want to become another victim of computer hacking.
While President Obama was busy cozying up to the dictators in Cuba yesterday, he did find the time to issue a mumbled suggestion that people should “go to the movies.” Wow, that was taking a tough stance. I suggested to someone that we should send a few destroyer ships to the shores of North Korea to guarantee Americans can attend movies without fear. We are Americans and do not succumb to threats. But today I find myself wondering if that mentality faded out the last time Randolph Scott and Gary Cooper rode into the sunset.
William Pollack is a Memphis, TN based owner/operator of movie theaters, radio and TV stations.