Cancelling Kindergarten Cop is a step too far

6 August 2020

9:58 PM

6 August 2020

9:58 PM

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s late-Eighties to early-Nineties comedies have not gone down in history as great triumphs. Films like Junior and Twins – in which he played a pregnant man and Danny DeVito’s unidentical twin respectively – are movies only arch nostalgists could love. But now we learn that Kindergarten Cop, another product of that strange period, is not just a bit crap, but basically white supremacist, too.

This is the news that Northwest Film Center (NWFC) in Portland, Oregon, has pulled the 1990 action comedy from its summer drive-in series after woke complaints. In it, Schwarzenegger plays a cop who goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher to apprehend a drug dealer. According to one local intellectual, it is a story enthused with racist, pro-police sentiments.

‘National reckoning on overpolicing is a weird time to revive Kindergarten Cop’, tweeted Portland author Lois Leveen. ‘There’s nothing entertaining about the presence of police in schools, which feeds the “school-to-prison” pipeline in which African-American, Latinx and other kids of colour are criminalised rather than educated.’

Speaking to local paper Willamette Week, Leveen elaborated on her thinking. ‘It’s true Kindergarten Cop is only a movie. So are Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind, but we recognise films like those are not “good family fun”… They are relics of how pop culture feeds racist assumptions.’ And just like that, a piece of Nineties fluff is likened to a pro-KKK film.

In the woke war on culture that has for some reason spun out of the US Black Lives Matter protests, at least going after Kindergarten Cop is slightly more coherent. What The Mighty Boosh, last year’s Aladdin remake or Fawlty Towers have to do with US police brutality is anyone’s guess, but they were all censored or slapped with content warnings by streaming services in the wake of the movement.

Regardless, censoring Kindergarten Cop is still, of course, completely crackers. The logic here seems to be that it is racially insensitive because it portrays a policeman in a positive light. Hit cop sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine has come under fire for similar reasons. It is accused of ‘subtle copaganda’ by critics, and some of its stars have ostentatiously donated to bail funds for protesters as a means of ‘giving back’.

It is remarkable how quickly presumably sane people and institutions are giving in to the mad demands of a tiny number of protesters. NWFC said it pulled Kindergarten Cop after discussions with ‘staff and community members’. (It has replaced it with extra screenings of Good Trouble, a new documentary about civil-rights hero John Lewis.) But as pointed out on Reason, it seemed to announce the cancellation directly in response to Leveen’s tweets.

Inevitably, Leveen still isn’t happy. She told Willamette Week that the NWFC’s statement left her cold, noting its failure over the years to draw diverse audiences. ‘When a white-dominant institution cannot honestly admit their error and insensitivity, it does not suggest they will avoid similar errors and insensitivities in the future’, she said. And remember, she’s talking here about it choosing to screen a kids film – her intolerance should not be accommodated.

The campaigns of censorship, the denunciations, the statue-toppling, the Year Zero rage unleashed of late, have chalked up some significant victories. But this has nothing to do with the strength or number of activists involved, and everything to do with the cowardice of the institutions they target. They seem incapable of standing up to protesters, regardless of how absurd the demands are.

If politicians, cultural institutions or universities grew just an inch of backbone, a lot of this censorious guff would stop. Then we could get back to talking about the important things, which in any sane society would not include the potentially sinister subtexts of 1990s comedies.

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