NW Film Center Has Canceled an Outdoor Screening of “Kindergarten Cop” Following Complaints

“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.’”

IMAGE: Universal Pictures.

It's not a tumor, but it has been cut out like one.

NW Film Center had planned to kick off Cinema Unbound, its summer drive-in movie series at Zidell Yards, on Aug. 6 with a screening of the 1990 action-comedy Kindergarten Cop.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a police detective who goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher in order to bust a drug dealer, the movie was filmed in Astoria, Ore., and celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. NWFC had planned to show the film "for its importance in Oregon filmmaking history," according to a press release.

Those plans are now off—in part, it would appear, due to an online campaign against the screening.

In announcing the cancellation, NWFC said it came to the decision after discussions with "staff and community members" convinced them that, given the current political climate, it would be wiser instead to add a second screening of Good Trouble, the new documentary on civil rights icon John Lewis, who died July 17. A screening scheduled for Aug. 7 had already sold out.

On Saturday, Portland author Lois Leveen—whose writing credits include contributions to The New York Times and The Atlantic and the book The Secrets of Mary Bowser, a novel based on the life of a slave-turned-Union spy—took to Twitter to excoriate the organization for leading off its series with the movie.

"National reckoning on overpolicing is a weird time to revive Kindergarten Cop. IRL, we are trying to end the school-to-prison pipeline," she tweeted. "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."

In a message sent to WW over the weekend with the subject line "Kindergarten Cop-Out: Why Does NW Film Center Think There's Anything Fun About Cops Traumatizing Schoolchildren," Leveen elaborated on her concerns.

"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,'" she wrote. "They are relics of how pop culture feeds racist assumptions."

"Because despite what the movie shows," she continued, "in reality, schools don't transform cops. Cops transform schools, and in an extremely detrimental way."

It should be noted that Schwarzenegger's character in Kindergarten Cop, John Kimble, is not a school resource officer. Rather, he's a detective working undercover to catch a drug kingpin whose ex-wife and son live in Astoria.

Regardless, the protests over police brutality have spurred discussions about "copaganda" in popular entertainment, and even absurd portrayals of law enforcement are facing scrutiny. Although, to be fair, the movie ends (spoiler alert) with Kimble giving up his badge and becoming an educator instead.

A spokesperson says NWFC considered not just Leveen's comments in its decision, but "a dozen others, including Black community members who asked us to consider opening the Drive-In with a different movie."

Leveen tells WW the Film Center's statement left her dissatisfied.

"I have been a Silver Screen members for years, and an NWFC patron even longer, and I know how seldom their screenings attract substantial numbers of BIPOC audience members," Leveen writes in an email. "When a white-dominant institution cannot honestly admit their error and insensitivity, it does not suggest they will avoid similar errors and insensitivities in the future."

The Cinema Unbound Drive-In is among NWFC's plans for working around the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and finding safe ways to continue screening movies for the public. The series, which will continue through Sept. 26, also includes screenings of Barry Jenkins' Oscar-winner Moonlight, Gus Van Sant's Milk, the Spike Lee classic Do the Right Thing and the 1980 cheesefest Xanadu.

This story has been updated to reflect new comments from NW Film Center and Lois Leveen.

Related: NW Film Center Is Offering Audiences Unique Ways to Experience Cinema During the Pandemic.

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