*UPDATE: CNN has reported the film will undergo edits to remove the objectionable content!*
Child advocates have accused new kids film Show Dogs of sending “a troubling message that grooms children for sexual abuse”. The film was released in the US last week, and is not scheduled to be released in Australia until July.
The film follows the story of a police dog going undercover at a dog show. There are reportedly several scenes in which the dog, Max, has to have his genitals inspected. When he is uncomfortable and wants to stop he is told to go to a ‘zen place’. When he does this, he can advance to the final round of the dog show.
National Center on Sexual Exploitation has called on distribution company Global Road Entertainment to halt the distribution of Show Dogs in movie theaters and recut the movie:
“The dog is rewarded with advancing to the final round of the dog show after passing this barrier. Disturbingly, these are similar tactics child abusers use when grooming children — telling them to pretend they are somewhere else, and that they will get a reward for withstanding their discomfort.
“Children’s movies must be held to a higher standard, and must teach children bodily autonomy, the ability to say ‘no’ and safety, not confusing messages endorsing unwanted genital touching.”
Reviewers, too, have expressed their discomfort over the scenes in question.
Slate writer Ruth Graham called it “unsettling on several levels”.
“First, this is a children’s movie in which the protagonist’s success depends on withstanding a stranger touching his genitals even though it makes him uncomfortable,” she wrote.
“The movie’s solution to Max’s discomfort with the inspection is not to empower him to escape it somehow; it’s to have him learn to checkout mentally while he endures it, and to make no outward sign of his humiliation. It is not paranoid to say that this is a bad message for kids.”
Writer Jenny Rapson echoed those sentiments in a blog post on For Every Mom: “Max’s success is riding on whether or not he lets both his partner (for practice) and a stranger (the competition judge) touch his private parts. IN A KIDS MOVIE. WHAT??? Newsflash, folks: THIS IS CALLED GROOMING and it’s what sexual predators do to kids!”
Writer Terina Maldonado wrote on family film blog Macaroni Kid that “during the movie, I kept thinking, “This is wrong, it doesn’t need to be in a kids movie. Everything else in the movie is good fun except for this.”
In response to the outcry, Global Road Entertainment, co-producers of the film released a statement to CNN:
“The dog show judging in this film is depicted completely accurately as done at shows around the world; and was performed by professional and highly-respected dog show judges,” the statement said in part. “Global Road Entertainment and the filmmakers are saddened and apologise to any parent who feels the scene sends a message other than a comedic moment in the film, with no hidden or ulterior meaning, but respect their right to react to any piece of content.”
One of the writers of the film has spoken out against the scenes in question, claiming that they were written into the script by of the “13 other writers” who worked on the movie.
“[I] didn’t get to see the film until it was in its final stage of completion, and had zero say in creative choices the second I signed away the rights to my work.”
“I absolutely condemn any suggestion or act of non-consensual touching in any form, as well as disassociation as a coping mechanism for abuse of any kind. I understand and empathise with the parents’ and groups’ concerns regarding the message the movie may impart,” he said.
Children’s charity Bravehearts is also calling for a ban on the Australian Classification Board to ban the film:
Bravehearts is responding to reports this children’s film contains multiple scenes where a dog character must have its private parts inspected and manhandled. When the dog feels uncomfortable and wants it to stop is then told to just go to a ‘zen place’ and is later rewarded for his consent by being advanced to the final round of the dog show. This message is not only wrong, but it promotes acceptance of grooming and goes against the very basic principles of child protection.
Cineplex Theatres have already pulled the film:
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