When late film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert reviewed Kindergarten Cop on their long-running TV show, they weren't completely sold on the Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy, at least not as a kids' movie. "Despite the upbeat advertising for this film, and the title 'Kindergarten Cop,' and its PG-13 rating, and all of that kind of image-building jolly kind of stuff, a lot of scary and bad things happen to little kids in this movie, and it is not appropriate for smaller children," Ebert warned.
Some of the problems he clocked were "a guy [setting] a school on fire" and a dad slapping his kid in the face, while Siskel was ultra-worried about "the drug caper" aspects of the plot. But most of us remember Kindergarten Cop as the "IT'S NOT A TU-MAHHH" movie, the one where a five-year-old solemnly explains that "boys have a penis and girls have a vagina," or the film in which we first saw a ferret.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Kindergarten Cop (hi, here's today's reminder of the unyielding passage of time) and it was filmed in Oregon, so it was picked to be the first flick in the Cinema Unbound Drive-In series at Portland's NW Film Center.
"Each night, you will meet storytellers whose narratives spring from a wide variety of building blocks and backgrounds," the NW Film Center said of its Cinema Unbound selections. "Some are first features, some are big-budget flix from those with storied creative careers. Some push boundaries in a future-forward way and some just make us flat out laugh and take us back to our youth."
But a lot can change in 30 years, and according to Willamette Week, not everyone was delighted by the selection of Kindergarten Cop, nor did they necessarily think that this was the right time for a movie about an undercover police officer taking a job in an elementary school.
"National reckoning on over-policing is a weird time to revive Kindergarten Cop. IRL, we are trying to end the school-to-prison pipeline," Portland author Lois Leveen argued on Twitter. "There’s nothing entertaining about the presence of police in schools, which feeds the ‘school-to-prison’ pipeline in which African American, Latinx and other kids of color are criminalized rather than educated. Five- and 6-year-olds are handcuffed and hauled off to jail routinely in this country. And this criminalizing of children increases dramatically when cops are assigned to work in schools." (Leveen has since made her Twitter account private.)
She followed that up with an email to the outlet. "It's true Kindergarten Cop is only a movie. So are Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind, but we recognize films like those are not 'good family fun," Leveen wrote. "They are relics of how pop culture feeds racist assumptions […] Because despite what the movie shows, in reality, schools don't transform cops. Cops transform schools, and in an extremely detrimental way."
The NW Film Center seems to read its Twitter mentions, because it quickly announced that Kindergarten Cop would instead be replaced with a second night of Good Trouble, the just-released documentary about late civil rights icon and U.S. congressman John Lewis. (Both screenings of Good Trouble are sold out.)
"The additional showing on August 6 replaces Kindergarten Cop, which had been chosen for its importance in Oregon filmmaking history,” the NW Film Center wrote on Twitter. “After discussion with staff and community members, however, we agreed that at this moment in history, John Lewis: Good Trouble is the right film to open this year’s Drive-In series."
Unsurprisingly, there has been backlash to the backlash. "Kindergarten Cop and Birth of a Nation are 'both problematic movies' in the same sense that my kids and Vincent van Gogh are 'both painters,'" one woman wrote, in response to Leveen's letter. Another noted that there are other concerns to focus on right now. "Imagine being so fucked up in the head that Kindergarten Cop […] getting removed causes apoplexy on Twitter, and 150,000 Dead Americans 'is a hoax.'"
Leveen wasn't exactly appeased by the NW Film Center's decision—or at least not by how they explained it. "I think what you meant to type was 'Yes, we made a grave error in not realizing the implicit racism in that programming decision," she tweeted. "We apologize and are rethinking who makes our programming decisions hereafter.' How deep a white normativity hole will [NW Film Center] keep digging?"
In a statement provided to VICE over email, the NW Film Center wrote:
We listened to concerns from more than a dozen members of our community, and though we had chosen to highlight Kindergarten Cop as a milestone of Oregon filmmaking, it was clear it would have impacts we didn't intend in our community. We chose instead to open the Drive-In with an added screening of John Lewis: Good Trouble, a natural choice seeing this city’s huge support for the film (the first screening sold out in 48 hours, the newly added screening in less than 8 hours) and for the movement toward racial justice to which Rep. Lewis devoted his life. Amy Dotson, Director of the Northwest Film Center and the Portland Art Museum's Curator of Film and New Media, adds, "As someone who grew up with John Lewis as my representative in Atlanta, it’s personally meaningful to honor the legacy of this incredible man and share his life story with as many folks as possible."
The Cinema Unbound Drive-In series will screen a different film every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, starting this week with Good Trouble and concluding with The Shining on September 26.
Kindergarten Cop is currently available on STARZ.