Donald Trump isn’t the only one with a Russia problem. After the hacking scandal that rocked Sony ahead of the 2014 release of The Interview—which saw James Franco and Seth Rogen assassinate Kim Jong-un—Hollywood isn’t taking any chances when it comes to depicting the leaders of hostile foreign nations in a negative light.
Two upcoming films have decided not to include dramatizations of Vladimir Putin, despite the Russian leader’s presence in the respective source material, The Hollywood Reporter reports.
The more high profile of the two is Red Sparrow, a CIA thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian double agent. Putin reportedly plays a “key role” in the Jason Matthews’ book from which the film is based. Sources describe the decision as “creative choices,” but admit that in making those choices, Fox was actively “steering clear of any Russian hackers who might protest.”
Putin is also absent from EuropaCorp’s upcoming film Kursk, which chronicles the true story of a Russian submarine that sunk in 2000. Once again, Putin shows up in the book from which the film is based, and was even included in early versions of the screenplay. Though no one from EuropaCorp has commented on his omission, Ajay Arora, CEO of security firm Vera, didn’t beat around the bush when speaking to THR.
“For a studio to release a movie about Putin that makes him look like a fool would be suicide,“ he said. "That’s a certain way to be targeted [for retaliation].”
It’s important to note that while Hollywood is apprehensive about portraying Putin himself, Russia has nonetheless emerged as the villain-du-jour among studios. One writer met with former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev about a potential biopic, while the upcoming The Tracking of a Russian Spy stars Logan Lerman as a journalist who gets embroiled in the Kremlin’s various disinformation campaigns.
But Hollywood’s refusal to take on Putin is an unfortunate déjà-vu for advocates of free speech, who were more than a little miffed when Sony cancelled The Interview’s release in 2014. At the time, Alan Dershowtiz called the decision “the Pearl Harbor of the First Amendment.” And he wasn’t wrong. Caving in to the demands of an oppressive government endangered the freedom of expression on which this country was built, and set a very dangerous precedent for which the consequences are still being felt today.