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Sony ‘Interview’ Ban Put U.S. on Par With Third World Dictatorships

'Exodus Gods and Kings' is the latest movie to be banned in some countries for political reasons. but it's far from the first.  (Photo: Studio)

‘Exodus Gods and Kings’ is the latest movie to be banned in some countries for political reasons. but it’s far from the first. (Photo: Studio)

Sony Pictures’ brief decision to ban its own film, “The Interview,” from theaters put the United States on par with Third World dictatorships that routinely ban Hollywood films for political reasons. Fortunately it reversed its decision, but film censorship is still widespread.

More than 50 countries, including the U.S. and liberal democracies like Great Britain, have banned Hollywood films over the past 70 years for both political and moral reasons, according to several film sources.

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This week, Egypt banned “Exodus: Gods & Kings,” because the government claimed it falsely portrayed Jews building the Pyramids.

The film also varied from the government line that an earthquake, not a miracle by Moses, caused the Red Sea to part.

Morocco has also reportedly banned the film.

Sony decided to pull “The Interview,” a film comedy about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, in the face of anonymous “terrorist” threats against movie theaters.

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After President Obama called the decision a “mistake,” Sony reconsidered and the picture was released to a limited number of theaters on Christmas day without incident.

But it’s not the first film pulled from U.S. theaters for various reasons going back to the earliest days of film. In 1906, the first film to be banned nationwide was produced by none other than American icon Buffalo Bill.

Buffalo Bill's 1906 movie about the massacre of Indians at Wounded Knee was banned in the United States because it was deemed too favorable to Indians.

Buffalo Bill’s 1906 movie about the massacre of Indians at Wounded Knee was banned in the United States because it was deemed too favorable to Indians.

Titled “Reenactment of the Massacre at Wounded Knee,” it was deemed too sympathetic to Indians to be shown in the United States.

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Over the years, individual U.S. cities and states have banned a wide variety of films–almost always temporarily–largely because of sexual content. In nearly all cases, the bans were later overturned in court.

The U.S Supreme Court ruled definitively in 1952 that movies were protected by the First Amendment, overturning a 1915 ruling that films were commerce, not art. Films could no longer be banned for political reasons.

Although they are still sometimes banned for moral reasons to this day by various localities, the actions are almost always challenged in court.

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In one landmark case, the 1967 film “I Am Curious (Yellow)” was banned by several localities after being deemed pornographic. But the banned was lifted after landmark court ruling overturned anti-obscenity film laws in several states. The film is tame by today’s standards.

Not surprisingly, countries with autocratic governments, like Russia and Iran, are the most likely to block films for political reasons. North Korea blocks almost all Western films.

Iran leads all other nations that allow some Hollywood films to be shown. It has banned 45 pictures since 1956, according to film references. The most recent film, of course, was Ben Affleck’s “Argo.”

It depicts the CIA and Canada smuggling U.S. embassy personal out of Iran during its 1979 revolution.

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But Iran has also banned such films as “Zoolander,” claiming it encouraged gay rights, “Schindler’s List,” “Bruce Almighty,” “The Matrix Revolution” and “The 40-year-Old Virgin.” Go Figure.

Surprisingly, Finland has banned almost as many films going back to 1936, when it refused to allow the release of “Battleship Potemkin” for political reasons.

The Russian film depicts a mutiny against Czarist Russia and was banned in a number of European countries as political propaganda.

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Other films banned for political reasons include the 1964 film “The Manchurian Candidate” (it was finally released in 1984), the 1984 film “Red Dawn,” (it was released in 1991), and the 1962 film “One, Two, Three.”

For some reason, the Finnish government also had an aversion to Frankenstein movies. It banned five of them in the 1950s, including the comedy “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.”

Finland also refused to allow “King Kong” to be shown for almost a decade before relenting. And it banned a number of films such as “Dirty Harry” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” for excessive violence.

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Religious films are often targeted for censorship. The Biblical film “Noah” about the great flood was banned in Indonesia, Morocco and Pakistan. “The Da Vinci Code,” was also widely banned.

It’s unlikely “The Interview” ban will have any lasting effect on Hollywood productions, given public and government protests over the decision. But whether it has a chilling effect preventing films from being made remains to be seen.

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