Philip Maddocks: Obama says ‘The Interview’ should be in Oscar conversation
As the U.S. government weighs its next step in a broader government response to a damaging cyber attack on Sony, President Obama ramped up his criticism of the Hollywood studio for its decision to pull back the release of “The Interview,” saying the comedy should be in the running for an Oscar.
“I can think of no better way to retaliate — to show the world that we will not give in to these threats and to make clear those values we hold dear — than to nominate this film for an Oscar,” Obama told CNN in an interview broadcast Friday.
President Obama admitted that he had only seen a trailer for “The Interview,” a comedy about a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un.
“I don’t need to see the movie to know that nominating it for an Oscar is the right thing to do,” the president told Candy Crowley during their interview broadcast on Friday.
Several administration officials said the White House woke up late to the growing confrontation with North Korea — which it claims is behind the cyber attack on Sony Pictures — with senior officials not realizing at first the scope and long-term implications of the attacks on Sony for its plans for a Christmas Day release of “The Interview.”
But by last week, the combination of the destructive attack on Sony’s computers, the threat of attacks on moviegoers at any theater that showed the film and the president’s newfound fondness for screwball comedies sent the administration scrambling for a response.
In interviews over the past two days, officials said Obama’s decision was to have the White House directly lobby for the movie’s inclusion on the Oscars list — a public stand that went beyond previous Oval Office film criticism.
“The president is a great student of movies and the craft of filmmaking, and he felt it was incumbent on him, in this particular case, to lend his voice to the ongoing debate,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary.
But as striking as President Obama’s determination to make Seth Rogen and James Franco into Oscar contenders for their work in “The Interview” is his critique of Sony Pictures for its
decision last week to cancel the controversial comedy.
The chief executive of Sony Pictures, Michael Lynton, defended his decision and said the president misunderstood the facts about “The Interview.”
“It’s really not that great a movie,” Lynton argued.
The Sony executive said that when roughly 80 percent of the country’s theaters refused to book “The Interview” after the latest threat, it was no great loss to the theater-going public — and might even be viewed as a public service. The studio didn’t cave, he said, it just decided that going to the mat for “The Interview” wasn’t a battle it had its heart in.
I wish the president had spoken to me first,” Lynton told CNN. “I would have told him to watch ‘Boyhood’ or ‘Birdman’ or ‘The Theory of Everything’ before deciding to get behind ‘The Interview.’”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was also critical of the president’s outspoken support for “The Interview,” scoffing at the idea that the controversial comedy should be in the Oscar mix.
“I am not sure the president understands what [‘Boyhood’ director] Richard Linklater has done with his latest project,” said a visibly upset McCain. “To take 12 years with the same cast and crew, to have the perseverance to tell a story like that, to do something no one else has done before, well, I just don’t know how you can compare ‘The Interview’ to that.”
President Obama responded to McCain’s criticism at a press conference yesterday morning, saying he welcomed the senator’s input and promised “to give ‘Boyhood’ another watch. But he said he and his fellow White House critics don’t give out praise blithely.
In assessing the Oscar-worthiness of “The Interview” the president said he secretly enlisted the aid of China to get their take on the comedy. And back home, he convened a half-dozen meetings in the White House situation room last week, including one of the top national security team on Thursday night “to bring other voices into the Oscar conversation.”
He even agreed to give the “The Interview” trailer another full viewing during his vacation in Hawaii.
“Folks are entitled to disagree with me,” Obama said. “But I think one thing we can all agree on is none of us are taking this attack — or this film — lightly anymore.”
Philip Maddocks writes a weekly satirical column. He can be reached at email@example.com.