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Sony co-chair Amy Pascal steps down after hacking scandal

Amy Pascal stepping down as Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chair

Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairman Amy Pascal is stepping down and will launch a new production company at the studio, the company said Thursday.

The executive and the studio were dealt a series of blows after Sony’s computer systems were attacked by a group calling itself Guardians of Peace. That assault resulted in the leaking of troves of sensitive information onto the Web and forced the company to change its strategy for the release of “The Interview.”

Pascal sparked controversy when racially insensitive emails from her about President Obama were leaked in the wake of the cyberattack on the studio.

TIMELINE: What led to Amy Pascal stepping down

Long known as a filmmaker-friendly executive who has overseen development and production of some of the studio’s best known pictures, Pascal has been one of Hollywood’s highest-ranking female executives.

She also has long had a reputation in Hollywood circles for spending lavishly and sometimes indulging filmmakers whose projects haven’t always hit the mark.

In a statement, the longtime executive said her new company would focus on producing movies, television programming and plays. Pascal will begin her new role in May, the company said.

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FOR THE RECORD

An earlier version of this post said Amy Pascal's transition to a producer role will take place in March. She will transition in May. 

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As part of a four-year deal, Sony will finance Pascal’s company and distribute her films. The venture will be based at the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City.

She said she has always wanted to be a producer and that she and Sony Pictures Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Lynton have been discussing the transition for “quite some time.”

“I have spent almost my entire professional life at Sony Pictures and I am energized to be starting this new chapter based at the company I call home,” said Pascal. “As the slate for the next two years has come together, it felt like the right time to transition into this new role.”

The studio is expected to replace Pascal, but has not yet named a successor.

Lynton praised her for "bold choices that helped define" the studio.

“The studio’s legacy is due in large part to Amy’s passion for storytelling and love of this industry." Lynton said in a statement. "In recent months, SPE faced some unprecedented challenges, and I am grateful for Amy’s resilience and grace during this period."

In a November 2013 email exchange, Pascal asked producer Scott Rudin what she should ask Obama at an event hosted by DreamWorks Animation's Jeffrey Katzenberg.

"Should I ask him if he liked DJANGO?" she wrote, referring to the film about a freed slave. Later in the exchange, Pascal wondered if she should ask Obama if he liked two other African American-focused films, "The Butler" and "Think Like a Man."

Pascal and Rudin both apologized for the emails.

Sony Pictures includes Columbia Pictures, TriStar Pictures and Sony Pictures Classics.

Pascal joined Columbia in 1988, a year before it was bought by electronics giant Sony Corp., which used the purchase to elbow its way into Hollywood. At Columbia, Pascal oversaw films including “Groundhog Day,” “Little Women” and “A League of Their Own,” and departed in 1994, when she left to serve as president of production at Turner Pictures.

She went back to Columbia two years later, and became the company’s president. In 1999, she was named Columbia’s chairman, making her one of Hollywood’s top female executives. In 2002, Pascal was made vice chairman of Sony Pictures. She began working with Lynton in 2004, when he joined Sony Pictures as the company’s chairman.

Pascal is known for her relationships with stars including Adam Sandler and Will Smith, both of whom have made a slew of hits for Sony.

During Pascal’s tenure, the studio released such hits as “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Men in Black,” “Skyfall,” “21 Jump Street” and “American Hustle.”

The studio has faced its share of struggles in recent years. In 2013, activist investor Daniel Loeb called for Sony to make an initial public offering of up to 20% of Sony Entertainment, the unit headed by executive Michael Lynton that includes Sony Pictures, Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Sony Music Entertainment. Loeb made the proposal after a series of box-office misfires from the movie studio.

Sony rejected Loeb’s proposal, but signaled a few months later that it would make significant changes to the studio and said it would make $250 million in cuts. The company has since gone through several rounds of layoffs. It also said it would release fewer movies.

Recent movies from Sony include “The Wedding Ringer,” “Annie,” “Fury” and “The Interview.”

Sony released “The Interview” online and in independent theaters after major cinema chains opted to drop the film in the face of terror threats from hackers.

The movie depicts the fictional assassination of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un, and the U.S. government has blamed North Korea for the hacking assault on the studio.

Times staff writer Daniel Miller contributed to this report.

Follow Ryan Faughnder on Twitter for more entertainment business coverage: @rfaughnder

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

11:07 a.m.: This post was updated throughout

10 a.m.: This post has been updated with more details.

This post was originally published at 9:25 a.m.

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