Open Letter to Michael Lynton, Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman and CEO re: The Interview
December 22, 2014
Dear Mr. Lynton,
We write on behalf of PEN American Center. PEN is an organization comprised of more than 3,700 writers, editors and artists united in the celebration and defense of free expression worldwide.
PEN is appalled at the intrusive, criminal and profoundly menacing reprisals and threats that Sony Pictures has endured as a result of producing and planning to distribute The Interview. PEN has long stood with writers and creators who have suffered assaults aimed to suppress the dissemination of their ideas. We believe firmly that violence is never justified as a reaction to speech, no matter how offensive that speech may be to some. In the late 1980s PEN American Center took pride in standing with Salman Rushdie when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering his execution because of his book The Satanic Verses. These threats affected the book’s editors, translators and publishers, as well as booksellers and innocent civilians injured in protests. Many of those involved took considerable personal risk to stand up to the fatwa, pressing forward with the dissemination of The Satanic Verses despite threats and incidences of lethal violence. Once the danger subsided, Salman Rushdie turned his energies toward helping other writers at risk, serving as president of PEN American Center and founding and chairing the PEN World Voices Festival, which was launched after 9/11 to bring writers from all over the world to New York each spring for open dialogue and debate.
PEN’s experience standing up to the fatwa through statements, events and direct support to those affected strengthened our organizational commitment to fight for creative freedom wherever it is threatened. To that end, we extend our solidarity to Sony Entertainment, and offer our support in whatever form is useful to you and to all those involved in The Interview. The attack on Sony Pictures is an assault on the wider creative community; one that must be met with unity and resolve. PEN would be very pleased to arrange to screen The Interview publicly in New York or Washington, DC with appropriate security precautions. This is a genuine offer and one that we hope you will take seriously. We host well over 100 cultural events each year in New York and would be proud to work on a screening of The Interview that would highlight the issues at stake.
The prospect that, as the U.S. government has indicated, the government of North Korea is behind these threats is even more troubling. That the intervention of a foreign government that makes a mockery of intellectual freedom should determine what the American public can see and what American artists can produce is shocking; it puts us all under the sway of armed fundamentalism and intolerance. When The Great Dictator was produced by Charlie Chaplin, Neville Chamberlain’s appeasing government sought to suppress it. Outrage ensued, and the film is now regarded as a visionary statement about a terrible evil that Chaplin understood before his government did. Then as now, popular culture and satire remain crucial weapons in our arsenal; then as now, burlesque is among the privileges that define a free society. If our own government guarantees freedom of speech but other governments can undermine that freedom on our own shores, our Constitution is in jeopardy: the civil liberties of Americans are guaranteed only so long as no one else objects to them.
It is in solidarity and in an appeal to our shared appreciation of the importance of creative expression that we urge you to take swift action to fulfill your pledge to find a way to distribute The Interview. This work should be made widely available, proving that threats and intimidation will not win the day.
We recognize that Sony’s position is a difficult one. We know that you are committed to the safety of your staff, partners and the public. We also recognize that in many major channels, releasing The Interview is not a choice that Sony can make on its own. We also understand that commercial pressures are relevant to your decision. Acknowledging those constraints, we hope you will do whatever is possible to enable The Interview to reach a wide public audience, allowing individuals to judge the work for themselves, and to see the threats for what they are – an abhorrent reaction to a film that is manifestly intended as satire. We recognize that to do so will entail some sacrifice, compromise and even a measure of risk; upholding free expression will be worth the price. We are also very pleased to reach out to other interlocutors and partners to urge them to work with Sony to make this possible.
If the decision to pull The Interview from all platforms stands, it will represent a lasting blow for free expression, emboldening would-be censors the world over. Impoverishing creative freedom, that outcome would send a message to writers, artists, publishers, and studios that controversial topics are to be avoided—that our right to free speech at home depends on the whims of violent extremists abroad.
We would gladly be of assistance in urging partners to collaborate with Sony, hosting our own screening, and doing all in our power to facilitate the triumph of free expression over suppression.
We urge Sony to demonstrate the power of free expression by denying the cowards who made these threats the satisfaction of thinking they have succeeded.
Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director, PEN American Center
Peter Godwin, President, PEN American Center
Salman Rushdie, PEN President Emeritus
Ron Chernow, PEN President Emeritus
John Troubh, Executive Vice-President
Jeri Laber, Vice-President
Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, Vice-President
Annette Tapert, Vice-President
John Oakes, Treasurer
Theresa Rebeck, Secretary
Edward Burlingame, PEN Trustee
Roxanne Donovan, PEN Trustee
Jennifer Egan, PEN Trustee
Nathan Englander, PEN Trustee
Morgan Entrekin, PEN Trustee
Jeanmarie Fenrich, PEN Trustee
Masha Gessen, PEN Trustee
Wendy Gimbel, PEN Trustee
Barbara Goldsmith, PEN Trustee
Tom Healy, PEN Trustee
Samuel Heins, PEN Trustee
Tracy Higgins, PEN Trustee
Elinor Lipman, PEN Trustee
Erroll McDonald, PEN Trustee
Sevil Miyhandar, PEN Trustee
Paul Muldoon, PEN Trustee
Christian Oberbeck, PEN Trustee
Tess O’Dwyer, PEN Trustee
Michael Pietsch, PEN Trustee
Laura Baudo Sillerman, PEN Trustee
Clinton Ives Smullyan Jr., PEN Trustee
Andrew Solomon, PEN Trustee
Danielle Truscott, PEN Trustee
Davis Weinstock, PEN Trustee
Jacob Weisberg, PEN Trustee
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Billy Collins, poet
Jules Feiffer, cartoonist
Neil Gaiman, author
Tony Kushner, playwright
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Richard Serra, artist
Stephen Sondheim, composer and lyricist
Fred Tomaselli, artist
Anne Tyler, author
Tobias Wolff, author