Kindergarten Cop, the quotable 1990 hit comedy starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a detective who poses as a teacher to apprehend a dangerous drug dealer, has been removed from its opening night slot at Portland’s Northwest Film Center’s Cinema Unbound Drive-in Theater after criticisms that it plays a “school-to-prion pipeline” for laughs and “romanticizes over-policing in the U.S.”
The charge was led by local author Lois Leveen, who took to Twitter Saturday to call out the film ahead of its planned screening, which was scheduled to kick off the film series on Thursday.
“What’s so funny about School-to-Prison pipeline?” Leveen wrote in a tweet shared via screen caps by The Daily Mail (Leveen’s account has since been made private). “Kindergarten Cop-Out: Tell @nwfilmcenter there’s nothing fun in traumatizing kids. National reckoning on overpolicing is a weird time to revive Kindergarten Cop. IRL, we are trying to end school-to-prison pipeline.”
In a separate tweet, Leveen compared Kindergarten Cop to the much older controversial films The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone With the Wind (1939).
“We recognize these films like those are not ‘good family fun.’ They are relics on how pop culture feeds racist assumptions. Kindergarten Cop romanticizes over-policing in the U.S.”
The film’s cancellation has — predictably — come under fire, with Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz lamenting that “angry leftists hate Hollywood. Anyone who disagrees will be censored. Hollywood, afraid of the mob, will keep funding those trying to erase any speech/movies that don’t conform.”
Folks of all political stripes, however, questioned Leveen’s head-scratching comparison of the PG-13 comedy to D.W. Griffith’s infamous film The Birth of a Nation, an explicitly racist film that painted the Ku Klux Klan as valiant heroes. Beyond its multicultural cast of kindergarteners, there are scant — if any — racial implications in Cop.
“Kindergarten Cop and Birth of a Nation are both problematic movies in the same sense that my kids are Vincent Van Gogh are ‘both painters,’ responded Alex F. Baldwin on Twitter.
There’s also the argument to be made for Kindergarten Cop’s pro-teacher and pro-education messages. One of the film’s central themes is that teaching is just as — if not more difficult — than police work. And by the end of the film (spoiler alert), the initially bad-tempered LAPD Det. John Kimble (Schwarzenegger) actually decides to quit his job at the police department to become a teacher.
Kindergarten Cop has local ties, having been filmed in Astoria, Ore. — the same famed locale where a handful of other movie favorites were shot, including The Goonies, Free Willy and Short Circuit.
Of course, the movie’s cancellation comes at a time when Portland has become the epicenter of anti-police brutality protests initially sparked by the murder of George Floyd, which only escalated into more violence in recent weeks as federal troops were deployed there. (The protests have calmed in the days since federal officers withdrew.)
The festival’s decision to nix Kindergarten Cop also comes on the heels of other recent cancellations of law enforcement-related programming, most notably the reality shows Cops and Live PD, which were criticized for glorifying police force. Contrary to social media rumors and a statement by White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, the Nickelodeon animated dog-cop series Paw Patrol has not been canceled.
In place of Kindergarten Cop, the event’s organizers will instead screen John Lewis: Good Trouble, Dawn Porter’s insightful documentary about the late civil rights icon (read our interview with Porter about the film here).
Other films slated for the drive-in screening series include Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Creature From The Black Lagoon, Xanadu, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and The Shining