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Thursday, January 08, 2015 

Attacks in Paris and on Sony raise fears of censorship

The Boston Herald's brought up the valid worries of censorship that could consume Hollywood, not just because they're allegedly afraid of terrorist attacks, but also because they're worried about money:
Freedom of speech is under attack, but, given Sony's initial decision to pull the release of the "The Interview" and its subsequent about-face, it's not clear how rousing a defense the entertainment business is willing to mount in the midst of financial pressures, political dangers and the threat of violence.

"All of this is deeply concerning to me because increasingly we live in a culture of fear," said documentary director Joe Berlinger, whose films include "Paradise Lost" and "Crude." "This culture of fear is economically based and that doesn't mix well with freedom of expression."

Berlinger said it's already difficult to get networks and studios to back politically-charged projects because they are worried about alienating advertisers or sectors of the audience.

In the hours following the Paris attacks, not one of the Hollywood movie or TV studio executives contacted by Variety would comment on the implications for the entertainment industry and potential chilling effect the killings could have on producing controversial content.

That reticence to tackle controversies threatens to calcify, filmmakers and other industry watchers say. Already, CNN has had to justify its decision not to air images of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that may have provoked the attack.

"We were already heading in the direction of possible self-censorship in Hollywood because of the Sony hacking, and this might just reinforce those tendencies," said Ira Deutchman, chair of the film program at Columbia University and co-founder of Emerging Pictures.

Studios routinely edit out scenes and other imagery from films exported overseas so as to not offend local sensibilities or, in the case of China, to pass muster with government censors. The worry among some writers, however, is that projects won't even get to that point.

Novelist Andrew Kaplan, author of the "Scorpion" adventure novels and "Homeland" book tie-ins, said that he sees the Paris attack as "leading to more self-censorship. As a writer or film or TV producer, nobody's looking for more headaches. So people step away from problems."

He said that his book "Scorpion: Betrayal" had a dangerous terrorist character known as "The Palestinian," and "there were strong suggestions from my editor of change this."

Kaplan dug in his heels.

"We batted this back and forth, but I held my ground," he said. "I could see why they felt, 'We don't want to step into this mess.' People are already antsy about discussing Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. Also, even though the Mideast is not a huge market for films and TV, it's an important source of money for productions. So producers and executives pull in their horns. They say, 'Let's shade this a little differently' because the truth is, they want the Mideast money."
I think this sums up the root cause of the problem: many studios and publishers have sold out to moneymaking, mainly overseas. All because they don't have confidence in movies filmed on a studio set to sell as well as those filmed on location, and that's just a starting example. If this is what we've come down to, then there's no point supporting a lot of these movie studios, because they're already certified cowards, and what's the point in supporting studios that do cave to PC? What needs to be done as a reaction is establish studios and distributors who will show the guts to tackle serious issues, and find millionaires who can provide the needed backing.

Update: in related news, the Weekly Standard's posted several Charlie Hebdo covers, in solidarity with the paper.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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