Part of my Christmas Eve was spent watching the HD copy of “The Interview” that I bought on my XBox One, happily supporting Sony's decision to make it available at home as well as in any of the indie theaters who were willing to book the movie for its Christmas Day release.
Over the last week or so, I've done a number of interviews in which people wanted to talk about what happened with “The Interview,” and one of the words that I've heard bandied about repeatedly was “banned.” I was asked a few times about what got “The Interview” banned, and I had to explain that nobody had banned the movie. That's a near-total misunderstanding of the situation, or an egregiously wrong choice of words.
The truth is that there are very few movies that can claim to have been banned by or in the United States. There is a broader conversation to be had about the way there are economic restrictions imposed on films based on their content all the time, and how the MPAA's ratings board absolutely should answer for the way they use their most difficult ratings as a way of forcing certain types of films completely out of the mainstream. Technically speaking, though, films don't get banned here.
Right now, though, Fox is having to contend with a growing situation around their big giant holiday release, “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” as it is starting to encounter some real pushback from countries unwilling to allow any screenings of the film. Both Egypt and Morocco have been reported as officially banning the movie over objections to a number of things, none of which appear to have anything to do with the casting.
By now, I think I've been fairly clear about how much I dislike the film, but I don't wish this fate on it. I understand, though, that this is a very different topic in countries with large Muslim populations. When the reports are that the film is being banned for being inaccurate to history, it makes me wonder how many other films they've banned for similar reasons, because “historical inaccuracy” is Hollywood's middle name.
It's one of the strangest things about the way we export our culture to every corner of the world now. When people talk about representation and diversity in film, it's not because of some idea about forced quotas. It's because our pop culture reflects a very narrow view of what it's like to live on the planet Earth in the year 2014, and that's a real shame. When we make a spectacle-based movie out of a story that is a cornerstone piece of the actual belief system of a giant chunk of the world's citizens, and we do it with top-of-the-line CG effects and big movie stars and we bend and break the original text in whatever way suits us, there is an arrogance that has got to feel genuinely crazy seen through the filter of someone else's sensibility.
There were several people I spoke to during the back-and-forth over whether or not “The Interview” was going to be released who said that they felt like the film deserved whatever happened to it because it was arrogant of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and Sony. “What would America say if, like, Iran decided to make a movie in which they killed President Obama?” was a regular refrain during those conversations, and every time someone said that, I automatically dismissed anything else they were saying because I think that's such a dishonest point and clearly untrue. If there was a middle eastern country that decided to make a movie in which a seated US President was killed and we saw it and it was clearly made as a comedy, there would certainly be a ton of conversation about it and some very real anger from some people, but I don't believe for a second that there would be any official governmental response or any sort of retaliation.
When it comes to showing someone onscreen who is considered a prophet by the Muslim world, though, there's a very different standard, and I don't think we can be upset if they decide to simply reject the movie altogether. It's one thing to make a movie that plays fast and loose with someone else's culture, and it's another thing altogether to insist that they have to play it in their country. I don't think this is something to get worked up over on our end, or even something to adamantly insist upon. For Fox, it's a difficult situation because that film cost a bundle. It's huge in scale and you can see just how much money Ridley Scott spent on it, so it's important to Fox that it play on as many screens around the world as possible so they have even a shot of making their budget back.
And I'm not endorsing censorship in this case, of course. I am sorry there are people who will not have easy access to this film in these countries, but with technology being what it is, I'm going to guess that anyone who really wants to see “Exodus: Gods and Kings” will be able to do so at some point. Right now? Maybe not. Eventually? I can almost guarantee it. Just as I'm sure there are going to be North Koreans who see “The Interview” now that it exists and has been commercially released, I am sure that anyone in Egypt who wants to see “Exodus” will eventually have a chance to do that.
“Exodus: Gods and Kings” is in theaters now.