“Don’t speak!” The hilarious repetition of that line by Dianne Wiest in Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway” earned her another Oscar, but is not very funny when uttered from Kim Jung-un’s regime.
Sony relented to North Korea’s demands to pull the release of “The Interview,” begging the question has Hollywood really been silenced by an insecure despot?
Will Hollywood ever be allowed to make a politically-charged satire again? Some of the most famous and classic films ever made have sparked controversy and outrage.
Below are only a handful of films that may not have been able to find distribution today for fear of retaliation from some group with an agenda.
The Godfather (1972)
Considered by many to be the greatest film ever made, “The Godfather” was prone to controversy early in production. The Italian-American Civil Rights League (which was supposedly run by the Mafia) mounted protests throughout New York City claiming the film was an insult against the Italian-American community. The protests and controversy raised awareness for the film and helped make it an immediate box office success. If released today under those circumstances, would theater owners still show “The Godfather” or would they accept an offer they couldn’t refuse?
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
David Lean’s gorgeous epic is another undeniable piece of classic cinema. They certainly don’t make them like this anymore, which is a pity. But would a film depicting the first Arab uprising, Turkish brutality (it’s implied Lawrence is even sodomized when captured) and T.E. Lawrence’s relishing in massacring those Turks fly today? “Lawrence of Arabia” is one of the finest films ever made but could easily create an unwelcome international incident if released today.
Gone with the Wind (1939)
This classic based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel completely romanticizes the south during the Civil War. The unapologetic depiction of African-Americans, especially toward Mammy (Oscar-winner Hattie McDaniel), is absolutely racist and if released today would certainly spark protests at the theaters.
The Life of Brian (1979)
Look on the bright side of life… What movie better lampoons religion than this Monty Python classic? But no matter the religion, it has - and always will - be a taboo subject for many. In today’s politically correct, volatile climate, the Monty Python troupe would be publicly martyred. But they’d be a huge hit!
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Definitely not a comedy like “The Life of Brian,” Martin Scorsese’s interpretation of Jesus’ life sparked an equal amount of outrage from the religious community. The Vatican denounced the film that depicts Jesus as a fallible man having an affair with Mary Magdalene. Would theaters release such a film today knowing they would receive the ire of the Catholic Church and its devout followers?
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999)
Matt Stone and Trey Parker don’t shy away from attacking anyone and everyone in this film (they even skewer Brian Dennehy of all people). But could this be released now after “The Interview” fiasco? Doubtful. Certainly not with those scenes depicting Saddam Hussein as Satan’s sex slave in hell.
The Great Dictator (1940)
To date, this was Charlie Chaplin’s most commercially successful film. Chaplin, most famous for his Tramp character, lampoons Adolf Hitler. During a lengthy speech – one of the most famous monologues in movie history - Chaplin, as the dictator, drops the comedy act and condemns fascism and advocates for democracy. “The Great Dictator” even had President Roosevelt’s approval and was released a year before the United States entered the war – when the U.S. was relatively at peace with Hitler. Similar to “The Interview,” would theater owners show a movie attacking a foreign leader - even if was Hitler?
To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Harper Lee’s seminal Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is one America’s best and most beloved. Robert Mulligan’s film adaptation brought the book further into the mainstream. Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) is a southern lawyer defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. Even though the evidence proves he was innocent, he was still found guilty and subsequently murdered while fleeing prison. Stephen King’s “The Green Mile” (1999) and Alan Parker’s “Mississippi Burning” (1988) are similar films that would probably have a difficult time finding distribution for fear of retaliation from white supremacists.
Ben Affleck tells Iran to Argo-f--k-yourself. After North Korea hacked Sony over a ridiculous comedy, would “Argo” – a “serious” comedy and Best Picture Oscar winner– be released today? The film follows the covert CIA operation in 1980 to infiltrate Iran and rescue hostages held in the American embassy. The movie is only two years-old and already the climate has negatively changed. Would Ben Affleck and Warner Bros. censor this riveting true story to protect themselves?
From Russia with Love (1963) and Die Another Day (2002)
Russia’s Ministry of Culture is already looking to limit the availability of American films and many of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books were once banned. If that happened today, there would certainly be some retaliation from Putin. The Pierce Brosnan Bond “Die Another Day” has 007 going face-to-face with a psychotic North Korean general. Kim Jong-un certainly wouldn’t approve. Look at it from their point of view: some dashing Brit saunters around with a license to kill Soviets. So many Bond films, which are Sony-owned, could prove risky today/
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Even though “Temple of Doom” is one of the most enjoyable adventure films ever made, it is also one of the most culturally insensitive. How this was accepted in 1984 is still surprising. The depiction of 1930s elite Indian society is preposterous, showing they eat live snakes, eye-ball soup, chilled monkey brains and use children as slaves. It’s all still a fantasy but if released today, would India sit quietly while Steven Spielberg and George Lucas made a fortune (and glory) by ridiculing them?
Arguably Steven Spielberg’s grittiest film to date captures the aftermath of the Black September assassinations of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The Israeli government sent a team of five assassins to target and kill members of the PLO involved in the Munich attack. Upon release, Munich sparked heated debate, some accusing the Israelis as terrorists, others defending their desire for retaliation. As if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict wasn’t heated enough this past year, would theater owners find it too risky to release “Munich” today?
True Lies (1994)
James Cameron’s action-comedy has become a staple of ‘90s movies. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an operative in a secret counter-terrorism unit. When first released, the film was criticized for being prejudiced against Muslims. The jihadis here are depicted as imbeciles, something real terrorists would probably find offensive. Movies and shows today (like “Homeland”) treat terrorists with serious kid gloves. Could a comedy like “True Lies” be released during the time of ISIS? Doubtful. Should it? You decide.