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Stars' anger over film cancellation - 'an un-American act of cowardice'


This photo provided by Columbia Pictures - Sony shows, from left, Diana Bang, as Sook, Seth Rogen, as Aaron, and James Franco, as Dave, in Columbia Pictures' "The Interview."

This photo provided by Columbia Pictures - Sony shows, from left, Diana Bang, as Sook, Seth Rogen, as Aaron, and James Franco, as Dave, in Columbia Pictures' "The Interview."

This photo provided by Columbia Pictures - Sony shows, from left, Diana Bang, as Sook, Seth Rogen, as Aaron, and James Franco, as Dave, in Columbia Pictures' "The Interview."

Hollywood has reacted with incredulity over the decision by Sony to cancel the release of its controversial film The Interview, criticising the studio for bowing to the demands of North Korean hackers.

Sony Pictures Entertainment announced the movie would not be released as planned in America on Christmas Day after threats of violence by the hackers.

The cancellation, announced Wednesday, was a startling blow to the Hollywood studio that has been shaken by hacker leaks and intimidations over the last several weeks by an anonymous group calling itself Guardians of Peace.

A spokesman for Sony Pictures Entertainment said earlier it was "deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company.

"We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome."

 Many were quick to criticise Sony’s decision, calling it a compromise of the media's freedom of expression and warned it could set a dangerous precedent of censorship.

Actor Rob Lowe led the vitriol on social media in a tweet shared thousands of times: "Hollywood has done Neville Chamberlain proud today. Wow. It wasn't the hackers who won, it was the terrorists and almost certainly the North Korean dictatorship, this was an act of war."

 Ben Stiller, who directed and starred in Zoolander, about a male fashion model brainwashed to assassinate a fictional prime minister of Malaysia, called the cancellation "a threat to freedom of expression."

Mia Farrow just tweeted the four words: “Damn. Bad guys won."

High-profile producer Judd Apatow, a friend and collaborator of Seth Rogen, who starred in the film alongside James Franco, said: "I think it is disgraceful that these theaters are not showing The Interview. Will they pull any movie that gets an anonymous threat now?"

Sony has absolutely no courage or guts. They should have never pulled it," the American businessman Donald Trump said via a video on Facebook.

Jimmy Kimmel, the US late-night chat show host, called the decision an “un-American act of cowardice that validates terrorist actions and sets a terrifying precedent.”

 The filmmaker Michael Moore offered a more tongue-in-cheek riposte: “Dear Sony Hackers: now that u run Hollywood, I'd also like less romantic comedies, fewer Michael Bay movies and no more Transformers.”

 Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, whose own emails were released in the hack, also spoke about Sony's decision.

"Today the US succumbed to an unprecedented attack on our most cherished, bedrock principle of free speech by a group of North Korean terrorists who threatened to kill moviegoers in order to stop the release of a movie," he said in a statement.

Even the political class weighed in. A former senior national security official in the George W. Bush administration said Sony made the wrong decision.

"When you are confronted with a bully the idea is not to cave but to punch him in the nose," Fran Townsend, Bush's homeland security adviser, said Wednesday during a previously scheduled appearance in Washington. "This is a horrible, I think, horrible precedent."

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and presidential candidate, said he was disappointed that the studio had bowed to the threats.

“No one should kid themselves. With the Sony collapse America has lost its first cyberwar. This is a very very dangerous precedent,” he wrote on Twitter.

Mitt Romney even had a suggestion for Sony: ".@SonyPictures don’t cave, fight: release @TheInterview free online globally. Ask viewers for voluntary $5 contribution to fight #Ebola."

 On Tuesday, the hacking group threatened violence at theaters showing The Interview. The Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday there was "no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters," but noted it was still analysing messages from the group. The warning did prompt law enforcement in New York and Los Angeles to address measures to ramp up security.

Sony said it had no further global release plans for the film - which had a scheduled UK release date of Feb 6, 2015.

"This attack went to the heart and core of Sony's business - and succeeded," said Avivah Litan, a cybersecurity analyst at research firm Gartner. "We haven't seen any attack like this in the annals of US breach history."

Experts say the cyberattack is likely to be the costliest for a US company ever. Sony faces trouble on several fronts after nearly four weeks since the hackers first crippled its computer systems and started dumping thousands of emails and private documents online.

In addition to vanishing box-office revenue from The Interview, leaked documents could muck up production schedules, experts say. There will be the cost of defending the studio against multiple lawsuits by ex-employees angry over leaked Social Security numbers and other personal information. And then there are actors and talent who just might decide to work at another studio.

Beyond the financial blow, some say the attack and Sony's capitulation has raised troubling questions about self-censorship and whether other studios and US companies are now open season for cyberterrorists.