In response to the global outcry over the children’s film Show Dogs, the Australian Classifications Board issued a media release. This was after the production company had promised to withdraw the film and re-cut it to remove the offending scenes, however, only minimal content was removed, with scenes featuring the dog Max having his genitals touched against his will remaining in the movie. Classifications Board referred to the scenes in question, involving the dog Max having his private parts touched against his will, as scenes that ‘may cause offence to some viewers’:
The Board is aware of social media commentary over the past couple of days that a scene or two in Show Dogs, may cause offence to some viewers, who are of the opinion that the touching of a dog character’s genitals, and the accompanying dialogue, may promote acceptance of grooming of children for sexual exploitation.
Reducing the issue to mere ‘offence’ is problematic. The concerns from parents, survivors, child advocates and organisations dedicated to fighting against child sexual abuse are not that individuals will be ‘offended’. They are about the disturbing and dangerous messages to children about sexual touching when the main character, Max, must put aside his discomfort and endure having his private parts touched, after which he is rewarded.
The Classifications Board assert that context is crucial, and on this basis suggest that scenes of the dog having his private parts touched against his will were assessed as thematic content. They went on, saying, “There is no suggestion in the film that the dog is a metaphor for a child.”
Long-time activist and Collective Shout supporter Melinda Liszewski addressed these sentiments below:
“The concern about the movie reflects a community putting thought into the media created and designed to be consumed by our children.
“This practice of inspecting genitals is common in dog shows, but there are a lot of other things about dog shows that I’m sure aren’t in the movie. The writer made deliberate choices about what to include and what to leave out. The scenes in question were included to get a cheap laugh, but this is where lack of consideration for their target audience comes in. Consulting with anyone specialising in child development, child psychologists would go a long way. They can spot issues others wouldn’t immediately recognise. Really important issues.
“So we can't say this is a realistic true to life depiction of dog shows, or dogs. They're anthropomorphised dogs. We have assigned human personalities, reactions, feelings, goals and fears. These are talking dogs. These are characters that exist for the children to identify with, to go on a journey with, to overcome obstacles with through this story.
“These dogs are not reacting how a dog would react, they are reacting how a human would react in the same circumstance. This is portrayed for an audience of young children. The statistics say one in five children will be sexually abused in their life so we know that in the audience of children viewing that film, some of those children are abused children. The idea of 'going to a happy place' while enduring unwanted touching is called dissociation. We are not doing children any favours by normalising the idea that people - again, the dogs are humanised - enduring unwanted touching is normal.
“My conclusion is this – it’s not a good thing if some children don't give this a second thought. This shouldn't be normalised and used to get a cheap laugh.”
Response from cinemas
We are pleased to report that several Australian cinemas have responded to community concern over the messages in this film. The film is not being promoted by Cineplex, Village Cinemas, Grand Cinemas, Dendy Cinemas or ACE Cinemas. Majestic Cinemas have confirmed they will not be screening the film, and Deny have told us that at this stage they have no plans to release the film.
The following cinemas have failed to respond to community concerns over the movie, still promoting the film despite being informed as to the issues: Hoyts, Event Cinemas, Palace Cinemas and Wallis Cinemas.
Both Wallis Cinemas and Hoyts have referenced the re-cut, yet neither of them will clarify whether the film is to be re-cut for a second time to remove all scenes where the dog submits to unwanted genital touching, or if they are referring to the initial and unsatisfactory cuts which still included scenes of unwanted genital touching.
Contact your local cinema here, and let us know how you go!