Film ‘grooms children for sexual abuse’
A FAMILY-friendly film about a police dog who goes undercover in the world of dog shows has been accused of sending a "troubling message that grooms children for sexual abuse".
Live-action comedy Show Dogs comes with a PG-rating and a cast including Will Arnett, Natasha Lyonne and Stanley Tucci. But one troubling subplot in the film has raised serious concerns for organisations including the US National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE).
The scenes in question involve the film's main dog character, Max the police rottweiler, voiced by rapper Ludacris.
Attempting to fit in as an undercover agent in the world of dog shows, Max has to quickly get used to "doggie pedicures, Botox and Brazilian waxes," according to a film synopsis.
NCOSE's issue is with "multiple scenes where a dog character [Max] must have its private parts inspected, in the course of which the dog is uncomfortable and wants to stop, but is told to go to a 'Zen place'," according to a statement.
"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," said the group's executive director Dawn Hawkins.
"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," Hawkins continued.
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!"
I'm sure many people will feel that #parents are being too over-the-top about skipping #ShowDogs, but kids soak in what they see. When I preach that their body is theirs alone, why would I sit & laugh at a movie implying it's OK/funny to "grin and bare" inappropriate touching?— Emily Stopher Joyner (@ItsMEEJYo) May 22, 2018
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 a statement provided to CNN, Global Road Entertainment, who co-produced the film, apologised to those who were offended, but defended the scenes as true to life.
"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.
Show Dogs is scheduled for release in Australia on September 13.