Thursday, June 26, 2014

Before The Interview: films that drew international and political outrage

Among the more unusual recent film headlines, Kim Jong-un has threatened war over an upcoming film, The Interview, that depicts Seth Rogen and James Franco attempting to assassinate the North Korean leader. It's not often that a mid-budgeted comedy sparks an international crisis and calls for violent retaliation. Come to think of it, has this ever happened?

Though military action in response to a movie is certainly unusual, the film industry is no stranger to international condemnation and high-scale political controversy. You don't need to stray too far to be condemned by a religious or political group, but only certain films prompt a level of outrage that reaches world leaders. If you're curious about a few other films in the same ignoble league as The Interview, here's a quick list of some that have drawn notable international attention.

  • Now regarded as a Russian classic, Battleship Potemkin (HU DVD 43) contains strong Communist, pro-revolutionary messages and took decades to reach the United Kingdom and parts of Germany. Even in Russia, Stalin partially censored the films due to specific contributions from Leon Trotsky.
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian (HU DVD 970) earns a special spot as perhaps the most famous movie accused of blasphemy for its critique of religion and faith. Though the filmmakers do not view it as an attack on Christianity, the film promoted countless local bans and challenges in England. Marketers later seized upon this and labeled Life of Brian "the film so funny that it was banned in Norway."
  • Borat (HU DVD 2633) famously lampooned Western perceptions of Eastern Europe as backwards and destitute. It was banned in nearly every Arab country, condemned in Russia, and prompted a massive public relations campaign from Kazakhstan. The Kazakh government later embraced the film for increasing awareness of the country.
  • Death of a President (HU DVD 3310) imagined a documentary covering the fictional assassination of George W. Bush – in 2006, while the president still held office. The voyeuristic experiment was widely condemned by political parties, media outlets, and film distributors; the White House never issued a statement on the film because "it doesn't dignify a response."
  • The Great Dictator (HU DVD 3796) was the first major film to criticize and caricature Adolf Hitler. Chaplin's outspoken views led to accusations of Communist ties from the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee, damaging his image and leading to his essential blacklisting in America.
  • Set in 1970s Iran, coming-of-age story Persepolis (HU DVD 4498) depicted an unflattering version of the Iranian Revolution from the perspective of a young girl. The film is outright banned in Iran and frequently restrictid throughout in the Middle East, prompting outcry and repeated legal challenges.
  • The film adaptation of the novel The Da Vinci Code (HU DVD 9211) rekindled outrage over its suggestion that Jesus fathered a child. Countries with significant Christian populations attacked the film as blasphemous, and the Vatican called for its boycott. At least one cardinal suggested legal action against the filmmakers, but no lawsuit was ever filed.

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