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‘Space Jam 2’ Slut-Shaming Lola Bunny Is a Distraction From the Real Issues

When news of a new Space Jam movie first broke, an entire generation of ’90s kids collectively leapt for joy. The original Space Jam, starring the Looney Tunes and Michael Jordan was an instant cult classic.

The 21st-century iteration, titled Space Jam: A New Legacy would have the necessary modern updates: it takes place in a virtual space ruled by a rogue algorithm named Al-G Rhythm. It no longer stars Michael Jordan but instead LeBron James.

Along with these contemporary updates came a few others that left many fans perplexed. The first was the reveal of the cartoon cast drawings, and the one that turned heads was Lola Bunny.

Warner Bros.

In the 1997 Space Jam, Lola Bunny was drawn buxom. She has a tiny waist and a large bust and lengthy eyelashes which she bats frequently. 2021’s Lola Bunny is devoid of all of this, and instead of the crop top and short shorts, is in a regular basketball uniform.

There were a few layers of backlash to the drawing. One was the shock that a character as iconic as Lola Bunny would be redrawn in such a way. The second was that she had lost all of the vestiges of her stereotypical feminity.

The third was the question that undoubtedly sparked the decision to redraw her: why was a cartoon bunny drawn so sexually in the first place? The answer is obvious, though one not everyone likes to think about: it was catering to the male gaze.

lola bunny lebron james high five on a basketball court in space jam a new legacy

Warner Bros.

For those who want to argue this first point, it’s worth bearing in mind that the 1997 Space Jam Bugs wasn’t blessed with washboard abs and bulging biceps. He was as he had ever been: an anthropomorphic bunny.

That this decision was made in the first place is lamentable, but in seeking to avoid the same “mistake,” Warner Bros has course-corrected so far in the opposite direction they’ve landed themselves in it anyway. Similarly, Warner Bros chose to remove Pepe le Pew altogether, which sparked a similar conversation—this time about rape culture.

Viewed through a contemporary lens, most of Pepe’s actions can be interpreted as sexual harassment. His constant pursuit of Penelope Pussycat despite her obvious and overt attempts to get away has been likened to a blatant disregard for consent.

pepe le pew, looney tunes

Warner Bros.

Whether or not this perpetuated rape culture is, in part, in the eye of the beholder. Pepe was clearly the butt of the joke and always failed in the end—but he never quite got his comeuppance nor learned—this of course being the premise for many cartoon rivalries, a la Wile E Coyote and Road Runner, or Tom and Jerry. Without any other input from parents, teachers, or other media, this behavior then becomes accepted simply by not being commented on.

Children watching Pepe, however, would also likely not pick up on any subtle or nuanced just-deserts and simply imitate his behavior—as kids are wont to do. That this behavior then evolves, is enmeshed into what we believe is okay, can of course happen without other sufficient means of understanding why it’s bad.

This is where the scene, which has since been cut, comes in; it took place in a bar, with Pepe as the bartender appearing in black and white. He begins hitting on a woman and starts to kiss her arm, but she pulls back and then retaliates by slamming Pepe into the chair next to hers before pouring her drink on him and slapping him hard which sends him spinning in his stool.

James stops the spinning, and after a brief interaction where they discuss Lola Bunny’s whereabouts, James makes a remark that “Pepe can’t grab other Tunes without their consent.”

By cutting the scene altogether, there has been a missed chance to include a child-friendly teachable moment about consent and respect. In the same way as redrawing Lola Bunny, this overcorrection has resulted in similarly complicated, conflicting, and cognitive-dissonance inspiring complaints.

Simply removing Pepe and all reference to his behavior doesn’t solve the problem—if the problem is that Pepe at best is a poor model for behavior and at worse promotes rape culture.

harper leigh alexander as xosha james, sonequa martin green as kamiyah james and ceyair wrigh as darius james

Warner Bros.

It’s long overdue that the rights and dignity of others are held above profit, and sometimes that means having difficult conversations or coming down on the side of an argument. By attempting to avoid this altogether, it has undermined the work being done to educate around these inequities persistent in our culture.

But if we want to update and understand how dated modes of behavior and thinking have operated in our society, systemically influencing generations upon generations, it’s a conversation that we need to have. Even when it’s about a cartoon rabbit and skunk, because those characters are important touchstones.

If they weren’t, if none of this mattered, we wouldn’t be having this conversation about Space Jam right now.

Space Jam: A New Legacy is set for release on July 16 in the US.

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