When Space Jam 2 arrives in theaters and HBO Max in July, fans won't see Pepe Le Pew in the mix. The Looney Tunes character has been removed and won't be featured in the film alongside LeBron James. While it might seem like this is a result of the New York Times column calling out the character's connection to rape culture, but the decision came a while back.
The controversial skunk was involved in a potential scene in the live-action world back in 2019. The film's initial director, Terrence Nance, had a scene with Jane the Virgin actress Greice Santo and Le Pew in his version. However, it was cut from the film before Nance left the production.
According to Deadline, Malcolm D. Lee took over directing duties and Pepe Le Pew was eliminated from the sequel entirely and never ended up animated for the scene that was filmed. The exclusion of the skunk from the film has nothing to do with the New York Times op-ed by Charles M. Blow, claiming the character "added to rape culture."
"This helped teach boys that 'no' didn't really mean no, that it was a part of 'the game,' the starting line of a power struggle. It taught overcoming a woman's strenuous, even physical objections, was normal, adorable, funny. They didn't even give the woman the ability to SPEAK," Blow wrote on Twitter after his column. The author also likely didn't intend for the Looney Tunes character to be the main takeaway from his piece on racist imagery in children's media, taking off from the recent Dr. Seuss controversy.
But while the controversy isn't related, the scene that was cut is treading into similar territory. According to Deadline, Le Pew was set to appear in a Casablanca-parody in black and white. The object of his affection would be Santo who would then slap him and push him away, giving the skunk some payback for years of bad behavior. Santo's representatives spoke with Deadline and made it clear that the actress was disappointed her scene was cut.
"This was such a big deal for Greice to be in this movie. Even though Pepe is a cartoon character, if anyone was going to slap a sexual harasser like him, Greice wished it would be her. Now the scene is cut, and she doesn't have that power to influence the world through younger generations who'll be watching Space Jam 2, to let younger girls and younger boys know that Pepe's behavior is unacceptable," the rep's statement said.