After taking a tour of Aardman studios and the set of their new film The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists, this is one film that I'm very much looking forward to. However, it's not all smooth sailing for this venture (last pirate pun I'll make in this article, honest) as the World Health Organisation, The Society For Leprosy Affected People, and a number of leprosy sufferers are forming an outcry against a particular throwaway joke that can be seen in the trailer below.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJJSdRwmRbY[/youtube]< For those who don't want to see the trailer, the scene goes something like this: the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) boards a ship and demands that its passengers hand over all their gold. "Afraid we don't have any gold, old man!" replies one of them. "This is a leper boat!"And then his arm falls off.Alright, not the funniest gag in the world, but also not one you'd generally think of as offensive. Since the disease is fairly uncommon in Britain and effective treatments have since been developed to cure it if caught in the early stages, leprosy is not a disability that people in this country are much aware of outside of the notion of leper colonies created to keep the contagious disease away from main settlements. However, it is estimated that between 2 and 3 million people worldwide still suffer from leprosy, many cases of which continue to go unreported until it is too late due to the social stigma attached to leprosy sufferers.It's a tough one to judge, since I doubt anyone believes that Aardman created the scene with a particular hatred of lepers in mind; it's a tasteless joke, but one created from ignorance rather than spite. Some of the accusations levied against the film seem perfectly reasonable. WHO leprosy experts claim that,
"The film shows a derogatory scene on leprosy and is spreading an unscientific picture of leprosy. Such pictures will undo the benefits of health education."
Sarah Nancollas – CEO of UK charity Lepra Health in Action – also protested against the offending scene. In a letter to Aardman, she states that,
"It is with deep regret that Aardman has decided to put comedy ahead of common sense and made this joke in such poor taste. Whilst we understand that film makers tread a fine line with many forms of discrimination, it appears little thought has been given to this particularly sensitive issue.
"Would Aardman poke fun at other illnesses and disabilities?"
It's not the first time that a children's film has come under fire for negatively influencing the mindset of young people. The Lion King was not only criticised for promoting a segregationist model of society, but it was also condemned by hyena lovers for its unfair portrayal of hyenas, a protest that resulted in one hyena researcher suing Disney for defamation of character and others attempting to organise a boycott of the film.
Boycott is also the suggestion being given by some of the more hard-edged voices of protest. Leprosy sufferer Jose Ramirez says that she has written directly to Michelle Obama, asking her to refuse to show the film in the White House.
"I know that this may be a symbolic gesture but considering the she has two daughters who may be exposed to this film is an oxymoron as she is against bullying……and the pirate animated film is about bullying of children with disabilities, especially those affected by leprosy."
This, I think, may be taking things a little too far, the rather erroneous use of the word "oxymoron" aside. The scene no doubt plays a very small role in the film, which in general is a silly romp about the Pirate Captain's attempt to win the Pirate of the Year Award with the help of Charles Darwin, a dodo and a fish in a hat. To argue based on one scene that the film is "about bullying of children with disabilities" borders on ridiculous and undermines the valid points made by other voices in the protest.
No word yet on whether the scene will be removed from the film, but Aardman responded almost immediately:
"Aardman take matters like this most seriously and is reviewing the situation."
The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists is still in the last stages of post-production and will not be released until 28th March this year, so it remains to be seen whether the scene will survive the final cut. Also important to note is the fact that the film is not purely an Aardman Animations production, but is part of a collaboration with Sony Pictures Animations. Sony, however, have been strangely free from any criticism so far and have yet to comment on the situation.
Story found via The Independent.