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This story first appeared in the Jan. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
I went online and looked at the cartoons depicting Mohammad that Charlie Hebdo published. To be honest, they weren’t very good: Any satirical point was undermined by juvenile humor and a witless desire to shock. The thing is, a proper response to those cartoons is to write something like my previous sentence. It’s not to shoot the people who drew them. And Charlie Hebdo‘s proper response to the Jan. 7 horror is to publish the next edition of Charlie Hebdo.
The most dignified answer to any attack on our day-to-day business is to keep our business going day after day. After the marches and the solemn silences, the real defiance comes in the walk back to work. The surest means of proving the terrorists have lost is in not being terrified.
That’s why any shift in how we go about our work in the entertainment industry disturbs me. Not because I think nothing has changed and it’ll all go away if we just calm down, but because if I feel I have to write differently, to choose my targets more carefully, to become aware of a thousand new sensitivities that might be pricked by a line of dialogue or a gag — or if I feel under pressure, as I do right now, to stop writing comedy for a moment because now is not the time for humor — then they’ve won; we’ve been collectively terrorized.
So I’m glad that Sony, after a brief pause for breath, has released The Interview. More so because releasing the movie online gives people in North Korea a smidgen more of a chance to see it — once the CIA stops shutting down their Internet, that is. It’s also quite amusing that the one film Kim Jong Un didn’t want us talking about is now the most talked-about film in the world. Similarly, I imagine many more people have now looked at Charlie Hebdo‘s cartoons than the dead gunmen would have liked. It’s so not what they would have wanted.
That’s the basic flaw in any terrorist attack: It thinks the best way to persuade someone of a sophisticated theological or geopolitical argument is to kill them. It causes tragedy, but it doesn’t touch the argument for a second. So let’s not act as if it did. Let’s not kid ourselves that everything is utterly different. Yes, let’s consider security, let’s keep safe, but let’s not pretend we’re all — comedians, actors, executives — in some kind of war now, that we’re on a front line or in a bunker. I don’t want to feel I have to wear an armband every time I tell a joke, nor ask for a medal once I’ve told it. Nor do I want Hollywood to turn this into a black-and-white, good-versus-evil storyline like something from one of its slightly underperforming action movies. And please, please: Can we give actors who happen to be Islamic roles far more challenging and dignified than Terrorist 1 and Undercover Operative 9? How about parts that don’t in any way require you to gauge their performance by their religion — soccer coach, perhaps, or NASA scientist? Or how about governor? A whole generation has now grown up watching the average Islamic character’s story arc in American drama center on the degree to which he or she is separate from the community around them.
I raise this because Rupert Murdoch, an influential media player, tweeted Jan. 9, “Maybe most Muslims peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” This worries me, first that he feels he has to preface the phrase “most Muslims peaceful” with the word “maybe” but mainly because someone so high up in the industry thinks the response to warped thugs who want to tar us all with the same brush is to tar an entire people with the same brush. This is the world of black-and-white thinking that is the last retreat of the terrified. It concedes the logic of the terrorist’s argument back to the terrorist. It teaches separation, and it makes me angry.
However, the right way to channel that anger is by writing this comment piece then getting back to work.
Iannucci is the creator and executive producer of HBO’s Veep, which returns for its fourth season April 12.
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