Belfast Telegraph

Sony hack hits Team America reruns

US cinemas have now pulled screenings of hit comedy Team America, reportedly as a knock-on effect of the Sony hacking.

Sony has dropped its planned December 25 release of The Interview - a comedy about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un - amid terrorist threats by a hacking group believed to be connected to North Korea.

A handful of cinemas across the US had plugged in screenings of Team America: World Police, the 2004 puppet film that parodies former North Korea leader Kim Jong Il as a playful alternative.

But Cleveland's Capitol Theatre said its long-planned screening of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's comedy was cancelled on Thursday (December 18) by Paramount Pictures, the studio that released the film. The cinema had booked the film in October, intending it as a 10th anniversary midnight showing.

Texas' Alamo Drafthouse said it had to pull its plans to screen Team America on December 27 "due to circumstances beyond our control". The chain's theatre in Richardson, Texas, had advertised the screening as a show of support for freedom.

"The film was pulled from release," said Alamo Drafthouse spokeswoman Brandy Fons.

A spokesperson for Paramount declined to comment.

Sony Pictures cancelled the release of the Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy The Interview on Wednesday and said it has no plans to release the film.

The studio has been shaken by hacker leaks and intimidations over the last several weeks by an anonymous group calling itself Guardians of Peace, which invoked the September 11, 2001 attacks in its threats against releasing the film.

And the startling cancellation of The Interview could have even further knock-on effects on Hollywood - putting an entire species of international movie villains in danger of extinction.

Pyongyang, an adaptation of a graphic novel set in North Korea - starring Steve Carell and directed by Gore Verbinski - has been given the axe after distributor Fox abandoned the project and producer New Regency was forced to shutter any plans.

"Are we now living in a world where we're not allowed to say that these are bad people?" asked director Judd Apatow in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "Are we not allowed to make a movie where ISIS is the bad guy now? That's been happening since Charlie Chaplin made The (Great) Dictator. There's so much political correctness that there (are) almost no villains left. ... Comedians attack power and corruption and things that feel wrong."

But as foreign box office becomes more and more important for the bottom line, studios have been forced to take a microscope to all elements of cinematic storytelling to ensure they're not ostracising a potential revenue source.

And North Korea was supposed to be the "safe" villain.

In 2011, the filmmakers behind the Red Dawn remake even changed the film's aggressors from Chinese to North Koreans in post-production so as not to negatively impact grosses from China, which has since become the world's largest film market outside of the US.

From Die Another Day to Salt and Olympus Has Fallen, North Koreans have become the default baddies for silly action flicks that don't want to offend China, Russia, or anyone else who might think of seeing their movies.

"North Korea was seen as a make-believe rogue nation - its own mythology only helped them to become this - that could be so easily made into a pantomime villain," said Simon Fowler, a blogger and film critic who studies depictions of North Korea in film. "But as they're just starting to show their teeth, they are becoming a lot less comical."

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