Sunday will bring the American film industry’s most glittering night of the year, the 2015 Oscars, but the biggest movie story of recent months will only be noted if the evening’s host, Neil Patrick Harris, makes it the subject of one of his jokes.
That is very likely. How could anyone resist drawing humor from the rich trove of weirdness contained in the hack of the computer system at Sony Pictures? Who would have thought that a loveable stoner doofus like Seth Rogen would be the guy who inspired a devastating cyber attack on a major U.S. industry – an attack that exposed the shocking vulnerability of American corporations that have become completely reliant on vast computer systems plugged into the untamed frontier of the Internet? And who can help but laugh – nervously – at Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s mercurial young despot, whose head famously explodes in Rogen’s controversial comedy film, “The Interview”?
For those who missed this story, here are the main plot points: Rogen had grown tired of making movies about 20-something slackers who spend their days masturbating and smoking weed. Trying to think bigger, he hit on the comic possibilities of a movie about an American journalist being drafted by the CIA to assassinate a dictator in the middle of an exclusive interview. Cool concept, right? Thinking about it some more, he realized the movie would have a stronger impact if the dictator being portrayed were real, not some made-up ruler of a fake country. North Korea’s tubby tyrant was the obvious choice to fill that role.
Over the objections of her bosses in Tokyo who live a whole lot closer to the Korean Peninsula than she does, Amy Pascal, co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment, gave Rogen the green light for his movie. Everyone knew the North Koreans would shriek and stamp their feet, but what else could they do? Their missiles can’t reach the studio lot in Culver City.
Unfortunately, their hackers can. Or somebody’s hackers. It is still not absolutely certain who was behind the cyber invasion, but the FBI and U.S. intelligence services have convinced President Obama it had to be the North Koreans. The cinematic portrayal of the hermit kingdom’s supreme leader being “taken out” just to elicit laughs from cineplex audiences was branded an act of war by government officials in Pyongyang. And it provided a convenient opportunity for them to put their army of well-trained hackers to work exacting revenge.
And, boy oh boy, did it work. On the day before Thanksgiving, devilish images appeared on all the computer screens at Sony Pictures. The system locked up and the entire studio was forced to communicate with pens and paper and personal phones. Then came the massive data dump – all kinds of stolen personnel records and internal communications, plus copies of complete movies that had yet to be released in theaters, delivered to media outlets that were more than happy to share them with readers and viewers.
Pascal was humiliated when some of her pirated e-mails were bared to the world. There were racially-tinged jokes about what sort of movies Obama might like to watch. And there were messages to and from Pascal from various parties talking about how celebrities are a bunch of narcissistic whiners.
Sony seems to have recovered from the hack, but Pascal got booted from her job. Still, thanks to being a talented and influential Hollywood player, she landed well. Pascal is now overseeing the reboot of the “Spider-Man” franchise for Sony and, no doubt, will be at the head of many successful movie projects to come. It will not be surprising if she shows up on the Academy Awards red carpet on Sunday.
If Pascal turns out to be the butt of a few jokes, she will laugh along with everyone else, even if it hurts a little. And why not? It’s not an international incident, it’s just show biz.
Today's cartoon is part of a full page of Oscar-related cartoons that will appear in Sunday's Los Angeles Times. An online version of the page can be viewed here.