Sony’s response to the Interview hacking scandal represents one of the darkest moments in the company’s — and in Hollywood’s — history. No matter how you feel about the film, everything about the hack was unfortunate. Sony may have financially backed a culturally insensitive film, but they also caved to baseless terrorist threats by not releasing it as intended. Derogatory e-mails exchanged amongst the company’s leadership were exposed, and the flip-flopping nature of their subsequent decision-making revealed even more negative aspects of their character.
More than a month after The Interview was intended to be released theatrically, Sony has announced that Amy Pascal, co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment, will be stepping down. Pascal was a name few outside of Hollywood knew prior to the hacking scandal, which exposed tons of her personal e-mails. The most infamous of those e-mails was an exchange with producer Scott Rudin, in which the two mocked President Obama by guessing which predominantly African-American films he probably likes — Django Unchained, 12 Years A Slave, The Butler, Think Like A Man or Ride Along. Pascal’s ousting — as well as its delayed nature — is yet another shallow response to a scandal that seems to continuously embarrass the film studio.
Announcing that Pascal has stepped down is a smart PR move for Sony. It tells the public that the company does not tolerate the type of morally questionable character she revealed of herself in her e-mail exchanges. She also becomes a scapegoat for the entire Interview debacle, giving the public and the company a sense of closure. Her actions, it appears on the surface, had unfortunate consequences.
The details of Pascal’s stepping-down, however, are much more cushy than Sony might like the public to believe. She won’t be leaving Sony entirely. In fact, she’ll be given the opportunity to launch what Sony describes as “a major new production venture.” Her deal as Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chair expired in March anyways. In her official statement, Pascal actually sounded excited about the new opportunity, which apparently has been in the works since before the whole Interview fiasco.
Her statement reads as follows: “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. I have always wanted to be a producer. [Sony Entertainment CEO] Michael [Lynton] and I have been talking about this transition for quite some time, and I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to pursue my long-held dream and for providing unparalleled support. As the slate for the next two years has come together, it felt like the right time to transition into this new rolle. I am so grateful to my team, some of whom I have worked with for the last 20 years and others who have joined me more recently. I am leaving the studio in great hands. I am so proud of what we have all done together and I look forward to a whole lot more.”
That hardly sounds like an acknowledgment of past mistakes or an admission of guilt over what’s happened at Sony in recent months. Pascal will still be in charge of major film franchises such as Ghostbusters and the new Amazing Spiderman series. Some of her power has been stripped, sure, but she will remain one of the most influential leaders within the same company. Any connection between The Interview and her career transition seems almost entirely coincidental.
The company, of course, is probably celebrating the timing. Pascal stepping down makes it seem as if they are reorganizing their company structure in response to the scandal, dealing with the main internal culprit. It’s a safe move, but also representative of the cautious response Sony has taken to everything in the past couple months. That’s not to say that Pascal shouldn’t be praised for her successes at Sony or equally criticized for her questionable morality in behind-the-scenes emails (although everyone has said something they regret or don’t really mean). As with all of the events surrounding The Interview, there’s really no way for Sony to win. Having Pascal step down and take on a new role might have been their best and only option. Also, despite all of the backlash against the studio, reports indicate that the hack may not be as large a financial burden as expected. No matter how many mistakes they make, it appears as if Sony and Pascal will both be just fine.