The CEO of Sony Entertainment said Friday that he and the company did contact the White House in the days before it decided to cancel the release of "The Interview" amid threats of violence, after President Barack Obama earlier called that decision "a mistake" and said, "I wish they had spoken to me first."
"A few days ago I personally did reach out and speak to senior folks in the White House and talked to them about the situation and actually informed them that we needed help," Michael Lynton said in an interview on CNN. "Did we talk to the president himself and talk to him about what was transpiring, that theaters were starting to pull back and being unwilling to distribute the movie? No. But the White House was certainly aware of the situation."
Earlier Friday, Obama said Sony "made a mistake" when it cancelled the Dec. 25 release of the comedy. "We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States. Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary they don’t like, or news reports they don’t like," Obama said.
"The Interview," starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, depicts the fictional assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The FBI said Friday that it has proof the hacking attack was carried out by the North Korean government.
Sony on Wednesday canceled the movie’s release after some of the country’s biggest theater chains said they would not carry the film after the hackers threatened violence if it was shown.
Lynton told CNN the studio had no choice but to cancel the release after major chains refused to carry it. Some celebrities criticized the theaters that dropped the movie and Hollywood in general as cowardly. Rob Lowe compared the fiasco to concessions made to Adolf Hitler before the outbreak of World War II.
"We have not caved. We have not given in. We have persevered, and we have not backed down," Lynton said. "We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie." Lynton said the studio has contacted video-on-demand and e-commerce sites about distributing "The Interview" online, but no major company has been willing to distribute the film.
Lynton said the studio was made aware of North Korea’s displeasure with "The Interview" last summer, and that the studio spoke with officials in the State Department at that time. "The U.S. government told us there wasn’t a problem," he said.
Lynton said, "I would be fibbing to say I wasn’t disappointed" by Obama’s comments. He also said he was surprised other studios remained largely silent after Sony was hacked. "This is a moment where you would expect the industry to rally around and support you."
Sony Pictures Entertainment said in a statement Friday that, "It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so."