Trigger warning: this article contains references to rape.
The struggle to determine how best to approach content that is deemed problematic continues to rage, with Looney Tunes character Pepé Le Pew being the latest character to be filed under “Things That Are Cancelled.”
The cartoon skunk will not be shown in Space Jam: A New Legacy, amidst criticism that his character perpetuates rape culture.
The character, who was first introduced in 1945, is best known for falling madly in love with every female he lays eyes on and pursuing her relentlessly despite her clear lack of interest. Le Pew is also known for kissing and embracing the object of his affections (usually a cat he has mistaken for a fellow skunk) against her will under the guise that he is a. a hopeless romantic and b. French.
Despite appearing in the first Space Jam film back in 1996, the scandalous skunk is now out of the long-awaited sequel.
According to Deadline, Pepé’s scene in the film featured him forcibly kissing live-action actor Greice Santo, before she pours her drink on him and gives him a slap. Pepé reportedly then reveals that Penelope Pussycat has filed a restraining order against him before LeBron James tells the smelly predator that he “can’t grab other Tunes without their consent.”
It could be said that by removing Le Pew, and James’ line that an opportunity for a teachable moment has been missed. By acknowledging the skunk’s past transgressions and having none other than LeBron James teach him a valuable (and long overdue) lesson about consent, millions of young viewers could have been granted entry into a conversation about how consent plays a role in their own lives.
On the flip side, it could also be said that characters like Le Pew have no place in a #MeToo era world, that we are better to wipe the slate clean of him and that a clearer distinction needs to be made between what constitutes romance and what constitutes rape going forward.
The decision to remove Pepé le Pew from Space Jam: A New Legacy comes after a columnist for The New York Times wrote an op-ed about how the cartoon character has normalised rape culture. The comment was part of a larger article on the removal of six Dr Suess books from print on the grounds that they are racist.
The author of the NYT piece, Charles M. Blow, also cited another Looney Tunes character, Speedy Gonzales, as having friends who “helped popularise the corrosive stereotype of the drunk and lethargic Mexicans.”
In a follow-up Tweet, Blow explained his feelings about Le Pew further saying, RW (Right Wing) blogs are mad bc I said Pepe Le Pew added to rape culture. Let’s see.
- He grabs/kisses a girl/stranger, repeatedly, w/o consent and against her will.
- She struggles mightily to get away from him, but he won’t release her
- He locks a door to prevent her from escaping.
He continued, This helped teach boys that “no” didn’t really mean no, that it was a part of “the game”, the starting line of a power struggle. It taught overcoming a woman’s strenuous, even physical objections, was normal, adorable, funny. They didn’t even give the woman the ability to SPEAK.”
RW blogs are mad bc I said Pepe Le Pew added to rape culture. Let’s see.
1. He grabs/kisses a girl/stranger, repeatedly, w/o consent and against her will.
2. She struggles mightily to get away from him, but he won’t release her
3. He locks a door to prevent her from escaping. pic.twitter.com/CbLCldLwvR
— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) March 6, 2021
However, Deadline reports that the decision by Warner Bros to no longer feature Le Pew in the Space Jam film was not linked to Blow’s comments.
Meanwhile, The Hollywood Reporter has reported that the controversial skunk is not featured in any current Warner Bros. TV projects and there are no current plans for him to return.
Space Jam: A New Legacy will debut in Australian cinemas on July 15, 2021.