The bestselling author said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press that he was prepared to make himself an example — even if it meant inviting criticism and potential threats — if Sony Pictures had taken him up on his $100,000 offer for the rights to its cancelled film.
Defending these values is a matter of the highest concern for "everyone on the planet, everyone who believes in freedom of expression," he said, drawing parallels with the plight of fellow author Salman Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after his novel "The Satanic Verses" drew death threats from the Iranian government.
His plan was to release the film on his blog in the unlikely event Sony took him up on his spontaneous offer via Twitter for the controversial film "The Interview" that Sony cancelled after threats from anonymous hackers.
"I thought that they could take the offer so as not to lose face," Coelho said. "You know, 'In a gesture of good will, we are going to accept $100,000 even if we put $44 million in this movie because we believe in freedom of information.' ... Tomorrow the film would be there."
The author of "The Alchemist" acknowledged he would have been afraid if he had released the film, particularly because he travels and could be vulnerable, but he would have been more ashamed of himself if he didn't at least try.
"So live with fear or live with shame? Better to live with fear," he said at his luxury Geneva home, where his phone and Internet service were mysteriously out of service in an apparent attack directed at him. "In the name of something that is more important than I am, as a physical person."
Sony defended its decision after President Barack Obama said during a press conference that the studio had "made a mistake" in dropping "The Interview," a satirical film about a plot to assassinate North Korea's leader, and he pledged the U.S. would respond "in a place and manner and time that we choose" to the attack that led to the withdrawal. The FBI blamed the hack on the communist government.
Sony said the cancellation happened only because the country's top theatre chains pulled out. "This was their decision," Sony said in a statement.
Coelho made clear he wasn't defending the movie itself but rather that he decried the "culture of fear" and apparent willingness to "negotiate with terrorists" that he said undercuts people's freedom of expression and the principle of not negotiating with terrorists. He also expressed admiration for actor George Clooney's attempt to highlight the same values of sticking one's neck out to defend our freedom of information by putting forward a petition for Hollywood bigwigs to sign — though none did.
Clooney said the entertainment industry should seek release of "The Interview" online, telling the trade site Deadline that he urged Sony to "do whatever you can to get this movie out. Not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I'm not going to be told we can't see the movie. That's the most important part."
Coelho said he was unable to reach any executives to discuss the decision not to screen the film before a projected Dec. 25 release, but he thinks the studio ignored his offer because of fear that more Sony hacked emails would be divulged.
"What I'm doing here is much more a kind of political statement: fight for you rights," he said. "We live in a moment where fear rules, and this cannot continue."