Nostalgic Parents Are Super Sad The Racism Is Being Edited Out Of Classic Kids’ Films
Before they re-air the 1969 Pippi Longstocking movie this December, Swedish broadcasters made what has turned out to be a very controversial decision. When the movie airs, it’s going to have two small moments edited out: Pippi’s use of the Swedish version of the N-word, and a scene where she imitates a Chinese person by pulling her eyelids up to make her eyes look slanted.
Making these small changes sounds like a no-brainer to me, but for a lot of Swedish people, to whom plucky heroine Pippi is on a level of sacredness somewhere between Harry Potter and Jesus, this is Not Okay. The words ‘politically correct’ are getting thrown around a lot, as they are whenever someone wants the right to be offensive without getting called on it. There’s been an outcry over ‘freedom of speech’, and Swedish opinion columnist Erik Helmerson asked, “Who needs to be offended before we cut a word?”
Well, I’d hope that everyone would be offended by the use of the N-word, but apparently that’s not the case. ‘Freedom of speech’ is actually an interesting choice of words here too, because the heirs of Pippi author Astrid Lindgren were the ones who made the decision to have the offensive bits cut out of the film before it airs this winter. Now, I don’t know how freedom of speech protections operate in Sweden … but somehow I doubt that it covers the decision to use the N-word without extending to the decision to omit it.
Even Lindgren herself, in the years following her book’s publication, backtracked on her use of racist language, admitting she hadn’t realized the problem with certain words and wishing she could take a mulligan on it. These words aren’t something it’s okay to toss around lightly, even if they’re part of a children’s classic. Especially if they’re part of a children’s classic.
So the only real argument I’ve seen in favor of leaving the movie unedited is the idea that we shouldn’t be whitewashing our history – that covering up these unpleasant racist moments and pretending they never happened wrongly obscures the parts of history we aren’t proud of. This is the way the Lindgren family has handled the offensive material in the Pippi Longstocking book, by adding in a prologue that says, effectively, “Some of this stuff is messed up, and let’s talk about why.”
I think this kind of teachable moment is the best possible way to handle outdated material in a book, but for a movie being broadcast nationwide on a children’s TV station, I can absolutely do completely without the gross racism. Pages in a book are there whenever you need them, but kids are going to tune in at various points during the movie, which means they’re more likely than not to miss a “Uh, so about that N-word scene” warning. Imagine being a black Swedish child tuning in to watch a movie about one of the most popular national characters ever, just in time to get the N-word dropped in your lap. No thanks.
To any adult fans who can’t get over their nostalgia long enough to want to make sure the movie is welcoming to new young fans, don’t worry: while Pippi’s eyelid-pulling imitation is omitted, you’ll still be able to hear her singing a ‘Chinese song’ whose lyrics appear to be “ching chong ching ching”. For real.