“The Interview,” a political comedy directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (of “This is the End” fame), was pulled from its scheduled release by most theaters in North America following threats that were allegedly received from North Korea. Following the threats, cinema chains around the U.S. refused to show the movie and the New York City premiere of the film was cancelled. “The Interview” was eventually released in a limited capacity in some independent and arthouse cinemas, as well as through various online streaming services and websites, and it still managed to earn $15 million through online rentals in four days.
“The Interview” is far from the first politically-themed film to ever be banned, however. Since the earliest days of cinema, movies have been banned or otherwise denied a release for political reasons in the United States as well as in other countries around the world. “The Interview” is just the latest in a long line of films that have fallen victim to controversy and censorship by local, national and even international governments. Let’s take a look back at some of the movies that have been banned for political reasons.
13. Birth of a Nation (1915)
This early silent movie about two families in Civil War and Reconstruction-era U.S. was characterized by an extremely racist portrayal of blacks. Although the movie was a commercial success, it was banned in several states and in several large cities because of its racist themes: the Ku Klux Klan were portrayed as the heroes of the movie, and African Americans were played by white actors in blackface. Despite the many African American protests against the movie, white audiences throughout the U.S. still flocked to see it.
12. The Great Dictator (1940)
The Great Dictator, starring, written by, produced and directed by Charlie Chaplin, was a satirical political comedy and drama. When it was released in 1940, the U.S. was still at peace with Nazi Germany. However, the film incited a lot of discussion on the controversial nature of the fascist governments of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The film was well received in the U.S. and in the UK. Obviously, however, the movie was banned in some countries: Nazi Germany refused to allow it to be shown, and it was also forbidden in all German-occupied countries.
11. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (based on a 1962 novella with the same title) is about a sociopathic delinquent who is a leader of a small gang that goes on a horrific crime spree. In the United States, the movie was rated X for its sexually explicit footage and violence. However, in the UK, the film was blamed for inspiring copycat violence and was then withdrawn from British distribution. Although the British ban on this film was generally rationalized because of the crimes it supposedly incited, the film is said to have had significant influence on politics and society at the time: at the time of its ban, there had been many intense political protests and tensions throughout the UK.
10. Apocalypse Now (1979)
South Korea briefly banned this classic drama about the horrors of war. Interestingly, the government banned it because it was an anti-war film. Which makes more sense when you consider that, in 1979, South Korea was at war. Even with the war and the discontent with this film the ban was later lifted by the government.
9. Sadat (1983)
Sadat was a miniseries based on the third president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat. The film depicts Sadat’s political life during a time of great turbulence in Egypt, including the nationalization of the Suez Canal, Egypt’s defeat in the Six-Day War, and Egypt’s attack on Israel in 1973. The film, however, was negatively received in Egypt. It was criticized for several reasons, including not being faithful to the history and being slanderous to the Egyptian people. It was also condemned because it cast a black actor in the role of Sadat. Egypt banned not only the film, but also refused to allow any movie distributed by Columbia Pictures to be shown in the country. Furthermore, the country’s artist and film unions sued Columbia Pictures (the lawsuit was later dismissed because the Egyptian court lacked jurisdiction outside of the country).
8. Back to the Future (1985)
China infamously bans a lot of American films, sometimes for perplexing reasons, but one of its most unusual bans is on any film that involves time travel. Yes, that’s right, any movie that depicts time travel is banned in China for political reasons: the Chinese government is apparently uncomfortable with the concept of anyone traveling into the past to change the course of events. Back to the Future is one of the most recognizable American films that has been banned in the country for that reason.
7. Death of a President (2006)
The 2006 movie “Death of a President” was a political thriller about a fictional assassination of George W. Bush. It took place about a year in the future at its time of release, and was presented as a “docudrama” using fictional “archival video footage” that profiled the aftermath of the event. Although the government of the U.S. didn’t ban the film, movie theater chains decided to step in and boycott the movie. Regal Entertainment Group and Cinemark USA refused to carry the movie. Some television channels refused to air advertisements for the movie. It was only screened for 14 days in 143 theaters. Many critics who saw the film mentioned that it was in bad taste, and politicians also spoke out against the film.
6. Borat (2006)
The movie Borat (full title “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”) is a mockumentary film written and produced by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen (who also played the main character in the film, Borat). The story is about a fictional journalist from Kazakhstan who travels through the United States and learns about Americans. Most of the movie contains Cohen’s unscripted interactions with Americans who believed he actually was a foreign visitor. The film was a success in the United States, but some countries were not as amused. Kazakhstan requested that the Asian distributor not release the film (which they cooperated with). The film was also banned throughout the Arab world (except for in Lebanon). However, as a result of the movie, Kazakhstan saw an increase in tourism and the country’s Foreign Minister later spoke in favor of the film, mentioning that it had put the country on the map.
5. The Da Vinci Code (2006)
This mystery-thriller film, which was based on a book with the same name, was banned by many countries throughout the world for political reasons. The controversy primarily stemmed from complaints by groups of Christians. Both the movie and book were banned in Egypt because of pressure from Coptic Christians. There were also bans of the movie in parts of India, and in other areas of India where it was allowed to be released, the country put a disclaimer at the end of the film stating that it was a work of fiction. Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Samoa, and Sri Lanka all banned the movie because of its offensive content towards Christians. In many other countries, the movie was released but many groups elsewhere attempted to get the movie pulled from screens.
4. The Departed (2007)
China banned “The Departed,” a movie directed by Martin Scorsese, because it contained violent scenes that they said would be “difficult to edit out.” However, it was more likely that the movie was banned because of a subplot about a crime boss who sold stolen missile guidance micro-processors to the Chinese government.
3. Persepolis (2007)
This animated film, which was based on a graphic novel with the same title, is about a young girl who comes of age at the time of the Iranian Revolution. Although the French-Iranian film won many awards and was nominated for an Oscar, it was banned from several countries. It was dropped from the Bangkok International Film Festival in Thailand, banned in Lebanon (although the ban was later revoked), and groups in the Washington state area even lobbied for it to be banned (along with the graphic novel that it was based on). After the movie was shown in Tunisia, the television station that aired it was attacked. Interestingly, although the Iranian government complained about the movie, in 2008 the country’s cultural authorities allowed it to be shown in limited screenings in Tehran.
2. The Dictator (2012)
Following Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen was back at it again in 2012, when he came out with another political satire movie called “The Dictator.” The movie stars Cohen as a fictional General who is a tyrannical ruler of a rich country. The film offended the nation of Tajikistan, who said that they didn’t want to be compared with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, stating that they had a different mentality and culture.
1. The Interview (2014)
As has already been mentioned, the American film “The Interview” came under threat from the North Korean government, and those threats hampered its release on domestic soil. In June 2014, North Korea threatened “merciless” action against the United States if its distributor released the film, and in November, the computer systems of Sony Pictures Entertainment (the parent company of the film’s distributor, Columbia Pictures), were hacked by a group that the FBI has said they believe was connected to North Korea. The movie, starring director Seth Rogen and James Franco, is about two journalists who are instructed to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after they booked an interview with him.