Published by Forbes.com:
It was just under a year ago when the entire film industry was sent into panic mode when an unknown third party group make cryptic and violent terroristic threats against Sony and those involved with The Interview. One major multiplex chain after another declined to screen the movie. Sony canceled the theatrical release, which in turn led to calls of censorship and handwringing about our moviegoing freedom being denied due to caving into terrorist fears. Will we be as outraged by similar threats or as strident over our willingness to press on when those threatening filmmakers are representatives of American law enforcement?
As you know, Quentin Tarantino marched in and spoke at a #BlackLivesMatter rally in New York City on October 24th, where he made comments stating that the contested shootings of civilians by law enforcement, often unarmed black men, were acts of murder and thus the police officers involved were murderers. As a result, the NYPD Police Union forcefully responded in protest and officially boycotted Tarantino’s upcoming film The Hateful Eight. Over the last two weeks, the story has continued as more and more big city police unions have joined in what has become a national boycott. I argued earlier this weekend that said boycott was having the opposite effect since it was keeping the story at the top of the news cycle and making the filmmaker and his film into a national news story rather than letting it evaporate after a day or two as it otherwise would have absent the outcry.
Well, now the “Fraternal Order of Police,” which is the largest police union in the country, is apparently trying to help Mr. Tarantino’s film both become a box office smash and win a bunch of Oscars in the process. Yesterday afternoon, they issued what could only be described as a comic book supervillain-type threat against the filmmaker. To wit, Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police (which consists of 330,000 police officers) told The Hollywood Reporter that, to quote their headline, “We’ve got a surprise coming for you.”
“Something is in the works, but the element of surprise is the most important element,” Pasco said in the initial story. “Something could happen anytime between now and (the premiere). And a lot of it is going to be driven by Tarantino, who is nothing if not predictable. The right time and place will come up and we’ll try to hurt him in the only way that seems to matter to him, and that’s economically.”
Now for the record Mr. Pasco clarified that this was not remotely a threat of violence or physical harm. Yet this all started because Mr. Tarantino was speaking out against instances of police officers using deadly force when deadly force was arguably not called for. Under such circumstances, it is impossible not to read Pasco’s comments and not be reminded of any number of cinematic villains making various not-so-subtle “Ya know, stuff happens, things might go wrong, what can ya do?” threats as a means of intimidation.
And that’s what this is. Even if there isn’t any intent to do physical violence on anyone associated with the Weinstein Company film, this is still a grand act of intimidation and absolutely beyond the pale for someone proclaiming to represent those who protect and/or serve. Considering that the police are in-fact a governmental authority, said threat against person and/or economic interest as retribution for constitutionally protected speech has potentially crossed the line to where the Django Unchained filmmaker can say that his First Amendment rights are being violated.
Of course there is a world of difference between melodramatic terrorists threatening fiery death upon moviegoers for going to see a movie on Christmas weekend versus offering vague but presumably non-violent threats of something economically harmful against a single private citizen. But since the most plausible way to harm the filmmaker economically is to harm the economic earning potential of his new movie, then by proxy the movie is a target and thus so is anyone who might go to see it.
Until this “surprise” is revealed, those with an interest in seeing The Hateful Eight will arguably feel just a little less safe driving to the theater, taking our seats, and watching the movie unspool than we did yesterday morning. Even if it’s merely fear of being inconvenienced (a traffic jam, a power outage, the film prints being sabotaged, etc.), it is still a fear that we now have about the film that we didn’t have before this outrageously irresponsible public statement. We don’t know what Mr. Pasco and his Fraternal Order has planned over the next month or so.
Those of us who will presumably get the chance to see The Hateful Eight either during its gala premiere or during the actual Christmas Day platform debut will now be wondering in the back of our minds just what might happen and how it might affect us.
Yes, I am fully aware that this said theoretical danger is exponentially less than the actual danger faced by the very citizens whose arguably unjustified shootings spurred the protests in the first place. I will also presume that this “surprise” is not endorsed by the vast majority of this nation’s police officers. But yet it was Tarantino’s presumption that he didn’t need a #NotAllCops qualifier when discussing why maybe police officers shouldn’t shoot and kill people that didn’t need to be shot and killed that started this in the first place.
Furthermore, even if the Fraternal Order of Police plans nothing so much as to toilet-paper Mr. Tarantino’s house or pull a ding-dong ditch at the TCL IMAX, the fact remains that there are any number of less mentally stable individuals who may respond to the notion that Mr. Tarantino and/or would-be moviegoers who would see The Hateful Eight in theaters this Christmas are enemies of law enforcement worthy of a perhaps less “economic” kind of punishment. Yes, that is a potentially inflammatory theoretical to be sure. But we live in an era where violent shootings in a movie theater, as well as lethal attacks against private citizens targeted by media outlets and powerful politicians, are just common enough to no longer be merely within the realm of the fantastical.
And that’s precisely why people in power, especially those in law enforcement orcelebrities with large microphones, shouldn’t go around arguing that private citizens are glorified enemies of the state by virtue of their constitutionally protected behavior. There is a moral case, if not a legal one, for not pointing at citizens or various groups of people and saying “They are the bad guys, they hate you and yours and wish to harm you!” Even if you don’t wish any harm upon the accused, someone else may hear your cry and take it upon themselves to go a little further.
Around this time last year, we all puffed our chests and argued that it was our patriotic duty to stand up to the terrorists who were threatening us over a constitutionally protected work of art. It was our American right and duty to see the bawdy (and not as good as you might have hoped) action comedy as an act of patriotic defiance against these terroristic threats. Is it now our patriotic duty to see The Hateful Eight as an American action against threats and intimidation?
Will we as a populace, or at least the film pundit class, be as outraged this time out? Sure the details are different, and hopefully the threat is less severe. But we don’t know that. We merely have to go on faith that the same figurehead that showed the awful judgment to threaten a private citizen in public over what amounts to hurt feelings will also show good enough judgment to not break the law or do any real harm to anyone involved with making or seeing The Hateful Eight.
Yesterday a spokesperson for over 330,000 police officers just issued an over-the-top public threat like he was a comic book supervillain or cinematic crime boss. He threatened a filmmaker with financial harm for the crime of speaking out against a perceived injustice, and by proxy threatened said artist’s new film in such a vague way that anyone involved with making it or seeing it are now potential targets. Will our national sense of outrage be as forceful was it was last December or will we let it slide because the would-be menace was a representative of American police officers and not a would-be “other?” Because with representatives of an armed governmental authority making public threats against an artist for engaging in lawful behavior, well, it’s like I said last year. In America, going to the movies should not be an act of courage.