The Interview is now a candidate for most controversial never seen. The comedy, about two Americans (James Franco and Seth Rogen) enlisted to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has become the subject of a massive and high-profile cyber attack on its studio, Sony Pictures. Not only were private Sony emails leaked to the world, but threats to movie-goers were made. Sony had to pull the picture in the wake of the threats, which are believed to have originated in North Korea.
But The Interview is not the first Hollywood production to draw controversy outside of North America. Over the years, many edgy, blasphemous, and not-so-edgy-or-blasphemous flicks and TV shows have drawn protests and censorship in foreign lands. All of which, no doubt, made you want to watch them even more. Expect The Interview to be a big hit once the threat of death is lifted.
With the fate of The Interview still dominating Hollywood’s consciousness, take a look at the fate of the following thirteen Hollywood movies and TV shows that drew serious controversy from some corners of the world.
13. 300 (2007)
A silly movie based on Frank Miller’s popular graphic novel, 300 nonetheless angered a lot of viewers around the world. Some criticized the sword-and-sandal film for being fascist in nature. Iran just banned it outright, with the Iranian Academy of The Arts calling it ‘hurtful American propaganda’.
12. South Park (2010)
South Park had depicted the Prophet Muhammad twice before this 2010 episode. But this particular instance drew the most significant level of negative attention. A web group called Revolution Muslim posted a message to creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone that they just might get murdered if the show aired.
They claimed it was just a warning, not a threat. The episode did air, though broadcaster Comedy Central edited all images of Muhammad and bleeped all mention of his name. Parker and Stone cried foul, saying that even a closing speech against ‘imitation and fear’ was censored, though it had no reference to Muhammad at all. The episode has not aired since.
11. Prince of Persia
It’s the classic movie Catch 22. Long before this big-budget action film was released, the internet was abuzz with complaints over the casting of Jake Gyllenhaal as the title character. A white guy as a Persian Prince? That doesn’t seem quite right.
But, as the producers suggested, casting a known box office star was necessary simply to get the film made. Others argued about the skin color of ‘true’ Persians (apparently laboring under the likely misguided assumption that a movie based on a video game worried about historical accuracy).
This year, director Ridley Scott said much the same in defending his casting of Batman star Christian Bale in the role of Moses for the critically panned Exodus: Gods and Kings. Money talks – not historical accuracy or sensitivity.
10. The Hunger Games Trilogy (2014)
Here’s a case of a movie inspiring a political movement. Sort of. This year, young protesters of the new military regime in Thailand started using the three-finger salute seen in the dystopian Hunger Games franchise.
Like the characters in Hunger Games, they are fighting against an authoritarian regime that seeks to silence them. One way to accomplish that, apparently, is to pull the movie from theaters and arrest protesters who make the gesture. Just like in the movie. Did they see how that turned out in the movie?
9. Aladdin (1992)
This hugely-popular Disney cartoon feature rankled Arab communities the world over. The biggest complaint was reserved for an opening song with the insensitive lyrics ‘Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face / It’s barbaric but hey, it’s home’.
The American-Arab Anti-Defamation Committee also noted the lead characters – Aladdin and Jasmine – appeared much more caucasian than any of the other Arabic characters, most of whom were sinister bad guys. In the end, Disney altered the offending lyric for DVD releases.
8. Rosewater (2014)
Jon Stewart working for Zionists and the CIA? Such was the accusation of Iran State TV levelled against this movie.
It’s the true story of reporter Maziar Bahari who had the misfortune of doing an interview for Stewart’s The Daily Show. Bahari was arrested and interrogated for months with The Daily Show interview used as evidence of espionage.
7. Borat (2006)
Yikes. Who didn’t the makers of this documentary satire offend? The satirical comedy purported to follow a Kazakh reporter (Sacha Baron Cohen) as he explored America and tried to marry Pamela Anderson. But in the course of Borat’s many adventures, he offended Kazakhstan (despite claiming they had the cleanest prostitutes in the region), Arabic nations (all but Lebanon banned the film), Jews (Borat considered them his nation’s chief enemy), Romania (where the film was shot), and Americans too numerous to mention (the film was hit with multiple lawsuits).
6. The Simpsons (2002)
This animated institution has made fun of a lot of countries and cities over the years. However, they never received such negative attention as they did for a 2002 episode in which the family visited Brazil.
And it wasn’t just the kidnappings, multi-coloured rats, and sexy kid show hosts that got Brazilians all hot-and-bothered. It was the inaccuracies. Brazil felt the cartoon mixed them up with cliches of surrounding countries in its portrayal of Spanish accents, conga lines, and mustaches.
The Rio tourist bureau threatened to sue as Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso declared The Simpsons’ episode a ‘distorted view’ of Brazilian life. Eventually, show creator James L. Brooks issued an apology.
5. Team America: World Police (2004)
It’s hard to imagine that former North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il liked Team America. Yet he might have secretly enjoyed getting a leading role in a Hollywood movie (albeit in marionette form). Created by South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the comedy portrayed Kim as a high-pitched, child-like sociopath who fed politicians to sharks and was secretly an alien. But did Kim Jong-Il ever see the film? Hard to say.
North Korea did ask Czechoslovakia to ban the film (they refused), so probably. In truth though, the film is far more devastating towards American foreign policy – the Bush Administration also condemned the film.
4. The Great Dictator (1940)
Charlie Chaplin took a lot of flack before this movie was even released. The British government said it would not allow the screening of the film, which made great fun of Hitler, Mussolini and fascism in general, as part of the UK’s appeasement policy with Germany.
Then, of course, Germany and Britain went to war and the film suddenly seemed like great, anti-Nazi propaganda. But did Hitler ever view this screen parody of himself? Some claim he watched it twice. Others – like Hitler confidante Albert Speer – say no. In the end, the film became Chaplin’s biggest hit to date.
3. Red Dawn (2012)
A remake of the popular 1984 Cold War actioner, this much-delayed flick changed the identity of its enemy in post-production. What was initially filmed in 2009 was an occupation of America by China after the United States defaults on its loans. Word of this drew sharp criticism in China, followed by a delay in the film’s release. What emerged eventually was not Chinese invaders but an invading army of North Koreans.
Why the change – which reportedly cost $1 million? The lucrative Chinese box office was the main motivator. Apparently, the film likely faced a Chinese ban if it was released the way it was initially filmed.
2. Argo (2013)
The Oscar-winning film from Ben Affleck has faced harsh criticism since its release over alleged inaccuracies. It’s portrayal of the CIA’s involvement in sneaking six Americans out of Iran during the 1979 Iranian revolution is, at best, a loose interpretation.
Canada took immediate exception to the film’s minimizing of its embassy involvement in the incident, a position supported by former President Jimmy Carter. Eventually, the film’s post-script was altered to address Canada’s role.
1. The Da Vinci Code (2006)
A movie starring Tom Hanks banned in China, Egypt, India, Jordan and Samoa? Guess it had something to do with that whole plot about Jesus being a father? That’ll do it.
Either that, or it was the albino killer priests. Protests over this movie sprung up all over the world, though it could have been a waste of energy. The staid, humourless film might have passed without much notice if not for the controversy. Instead, there was a sequel.