Canceled? Pepe Le Pew scene cut from LeBron James "Space Jam" movie

“Pepe Le Pew was cut from Space Jam 2. Not for the sex stuff. He just said the word ‘Taiwan’ in an interview,” snarked Noam Blum in response to this news.

Which is barely a joke. Hollywood knows that its access to China’s box office requires it to be careful about which forms of “rape culture” it does and doesn’t denounce.

If you were online this weekend you know that there was a — deep breath — Pepe Le Pew controversy among the chatterati thanks to NYT columnist Charles Blow, who mentioned the character’s behavior as having taught children “rape culture” in a piece about Dr. Seuss and archaic cartoons. Naturally he was challenged on that, and naturally he doubled down:

The flaw in that theory is that the character is literally repulsive, stinking of skunk odor (while being oblivious to it) and refused at every turn by the cat whom he keeps pawing at. He’s a send-up of the French lothario archetype. He’s not a role model. Rather the opposite, a male who thinks he’s debonair yet only succeeds at scaring off the object of his advances.

But never mind that. News broke this morning, two days after Blow’s column, that Pepe would not be returning for “Space Jam 2,” the LeBron James sequel to the Michael Jordan animated basketball movie. Had Warner Bros. suddenly canceled Pepe now that a Times columnist had deemed him a crime against wokeness? “News of the character’s absence from the Warner Bros. film broke Sunday evening, days after a New York Times opinion piece called out the character, among other problematic cartoon characters, in the wake of Dr. Seuss Enterprises announcing it would stop publishing six books because of racist and insensitive imagery,” the Hollywood Reporter noted. That’s quite a coincidence in timing.

There’s no causal relationship, though, it turns out — or at least, no direct causal relationship. THR claims Pepe was removed from the film a year ago. Deadline corroborates that, claiming that the character was axed sufficiently long ago that his scene was never animated. (The original director was replaced during production and the new director evidently cut the scene.) The live-action part was shot, but sources who viewed a screener of the film this past winter don’t remember Pepe Le Pew being in it. Whatever caused Warner Bros. to dump the Cuomo-esque skunk, it wasn’t Blow’s column.

In fact, one of the actors in the now-scrapped scene was annoyed to find out that it was cut because … it showed the character finally getting his comeuppance for his grabby ways. The film was all set to deliver a message about “rape culture” — and that message ended up on the cutting-room floor:

Pepe was set to appear in a black-and-white Casablanca-like Rick’s Cafe sequence. Pepe, playing a bartender, starts hitting on a woman at the bar played by [actress Greice] Santo. He begins kissing her arm, which she pulls back, then slamming Pepe into the chair next to hers. She then pours her drink on Pepe, and slaps him hard, sending him spinning in a stool, which is then stopped by LeBron James’ hand. James and Bugs Bunny are looking for Lola, and Pepe knows her whereabouts. Pepe then tells the guys that Penelope cat has filed a restraining order against him. James makes a remark in the script that Pepe can’t grab other Tunes without their consent

A spokesperson for Santo tells Deadline today, “This was such a big deal for Greice to be in this movie. Even though Pepe is a cartoon character, if anyone was going to slap a sexual harasser like him, Greice wished it would be her. Now the scene is cut, and she doesn’t have that power to influence the world through younger generations who’ll be watching Space Jam 2, to let younger girls and younger boys know that Pepe’s behavior is unacceptable.”

Warner Bros. was going to make an example of him! And so, the question: Did the Pepe scene get cut for mundane reasons like length or because it didn’t work? Or was it cut because Warner Bros. anticipated a Blow-style controversy if they included a “rapey” character in their movie, even if just for the purpose of condemning him? Lefty critics have spent the past few days insisting that Dr. Seuss isn’t a true example of “cancellation” because it was Seuss’s own publisher that decided not to publish six “problematic” books, without any boycott campaign having been organized to pressure them into that position. And maybe that’s true; certainly it’s possible that Team Seuss felt squeamish about the depictions of African and Chinese characters in some of the books and decided it’d be best not to sell those anymore. But it’s equally possible that they anticipated a controversy in the not distant future — remember that Seuss has already been criticized by academics for underrepresenting people of color in his works — and decided to get ahead of it before a boycott movement was organized and the requisite bad headlines resulted.

If you “self-cancel” because you have good reason to think you’ll be canceled if you don’t, is that not cancellation? It’s the fondest wish of woke censors come true: By convincing content creators to shy away from “problematic” material due to the mere possibility that they’ll be canceled for it eventually, they can keep even borderline stuff from being published. I’m surprised this character is — for the moment — still in the film, frankly:

Anyone want to bet a meaningful sum that he won’t end up cut before the film hits theaters? From Warner Bros.’s standpoint, why invite a headache when you can simply avert it? Exit quotation from Becket Adams, who hasn’t forgotten how LeBron shilled for China over the Daryl Morey/Hong Kong matter even if most of America has: “the movie starring a real-life genocide apologist will no longer feature a *problematic* cartoon skunk”.