While consumers around the world are debating the merits of Samsung’s latest product roster, which debuted at the MWC in Barcelona yesterday, the company is facing accusations back in South Korea that it tried to suppress a film critical of its safety record.
Another Family‘s production crew and supporters claim that Samsung tried to keep the film out of one of the country’s biggest cinema chains and also interfered with domestic press coverage. TechCrunch has contacted Samsung and Another Family‘s press representatives and will update this post if they respond.
The controversy is a reflection of how deeply entrenched Samsung is in the daily life of South Korea, where it makes up about 20 percent of the country’s total GDP.
The film, which premiered earlier this month at the Busan International Film Festival, is a fictionalized story about Hwang Yu-mi, a 23-year-old Samsung plant worker who died from acute leukemia in 2007. The film’s lead character, based on her father Hwang Sang-ki, wages a legal battle against a large tech conglomerate called “Jinsung” that very closely resembles Samsung (the film’s title is based on one of the company’s mottos). The names in the film were changed in part to avoid legal action by Samsung. A South Korean court ruled in his favor, finding that Hwang Yu-mi’s leukemia may have been caused or exacerbated by continuous exposure to hazardous chemicals at Samsung’s semiconductor plants.
On Feb. 5, online newspaper NewDaily Biz posted an article about Another Family. As reported by The Verge, the publication’s president, Park Jung-kyu, allegedly then told NewDaily Biz’s editors to delete the piece and ordered them to text apologies to the Samsung executives who had complained.
More details were later published in Mediatoday, another South Korean publication. Park said he ordered the article taken down to “fix the trust issue between Samsung Group and NewDaily,” but then later told Pressian that the article was removed because it was a duplicate post with information repeated from a previous article. Park also denied that Samsung had pressured him.
The NewDaily Biz situation is not the only controversy Samsung has faced over Another Family‘s distribution.
On Feb. 19, the film’s production crew, individual investors, and civic groups said at a press conference that Lotte Cinema, one of South Korea’s largest cinema chains, had tried to suppress distribution of the film by screening it in only 21 out of its 99 theaters on its Feb. 6 opening day despite strong advance ticket sales. They also claimed that Lotte Cinema has screened the movie at off-peak hours in the early morning or late at night.
At the press conference, filmmakers said “We have no evidence showing Lotte Cinema acted in such a high-handed manner in collaboration with Samsung Electronics but have no way to logically explain this situation other than suspecting it is the result of ties between chaebol.”
The theater chain’s parent company is the conglomerate Lotte, which is one of South Korea’s largest companies along with Samsung.
Another Family first gained attention in South Korea for being the first crowdfunded film produced in the country. Nearly 7,000 individual donors paid for more than a quarter of its billion-won (US$932,700) budget, according to WSJ.
The film’s popular support is evidence of public concern over Samsung’s safety record. In January 2013, Samsung issued a public apology after a gas leakage at one of its semiconductor plants resulted in the death of one worker and injured four other people.
In a statement to The Verge, Samsung said: “We categorically deny any allegation that Samsung tries to exert influence over media coverage, including of this movie. The fact is that the movie has already been widely covered by domestic and global media since before its release in early February. The allegation concerning the article in question is clearly groundless.”
Poster from Another Family’s Facebook page.