‘French Connection’ Censorship Extols Virtues of Physical Media

Reports began circulating in the past few days that a few seconds of dialogue have disappeared from digital versions of 1971 Best Picture Oscar winner The French Connection available at digital retailers and streaming services.

The scene in question takes place just shy of the 10-minute mark, as Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle character encounters his partner in the police station and chides him for getting stabbed by using several racial slurs, including the ‘N’ word.

The excision was first noted in a copy playing on the prestigious Criterion Channel over the weekend, and reported by the Hollywood Elsewhere blog. Other users then started checking copies of the film stored on their DVRs from cable airings, and came to the conclusion the censored version began making the rounds more than four months ago.

I checked my copy on Vudu and, sure enough, the scene is missing there too without a trace aside from the very bad edit used to remove it.

With so many outlets now presented this edited version of the film, pundits quickly concluded that the culprit is probably not any of the streaming services, networks or retailers showing the film, but that it was cut by the distributor.

That would seem to point the finger at Disney, which obtained the rights to the film when it purchased the 20th Century Fox studio assets in 2019.

As of June 6, the studio had yet to chime in on the controversy, or to confirm if the scene is missing because of a mistake in the distribution master copy or if the scene was deliberately removed so as not to inflame modern audiences who are too easily offended by the harsh realities of human history or existence in general.

Nor has anyone heard from the film’s director, William Friedkin, who won an Oscar for his work on the film, a gritty story about a racist New York cop in pursuit of a wealthy French heroin smuggler.

In addition, it doesn’t appear the bowdlerized version of the film is being presented with a disclaimer indicating material has been removed (like those “Modified for Content” screens that appeared before movies edited for broadcast TV). The usual M.O. for studios nowadays, Disney included, is to tag older films and TV shows with warnings about sensitive material that reflects the times they were produced. No such warnings have been appended to French Connection either.

Even stranger, the edit appears to affect only versions of the film presented in the U.S., as versions available in foreign streaming markets is reportedly unchanged.

Whatever the particulars, I’m sure they’ll get sorted out in the next few days, but it’s not a great look for Disney, which is already dealing with the fallout from a string of recent controversies and decisions that put it in the culture war crosshairs. Even if the censorship wasn’t purposeful, it doesn’t reflect well on the 100-year-old studio’s ability to preserve the legacy of the assets under its purview, particularly when they come from an acquired studio. (Compare this with Warner Bros., which has been actively counting MGM movies it now owns as among its own 100-year history of film production).

Plus, it’s not as if this would be the first time Disney “adjusted” its content. The Disney+ version of Splash added laughable CGI hair to cover up rear nudity from Daryl Hannah. And copies of Toy Story 2 were altered to remove a potentially sexist joke from the end credits.

God forbid Disney ever gets its hands on Blazing Saddles.

Needless to say, censorship to art like this, if purposeful and without the involvement of the original artist, is wrong. Yet we seem to be living in a zeitgeist in which 1984-style campaigns against objective realities seem to be all the rage — with ample reports of literature being rewritten by publishers so as not to expose new readers to the contexts in which they were originally written. A society can’t measure its growth if the touchstones for comparison are erased from history.

The bottom line to all of this, of course, is how it points to the fickle nature of digital so-called “ownership” if the source files can be so easily manipulated. For content you love — the cherished movies, TV shows and music that are ingrained in our pop culture history — there simply is no substitute for physical media.

No studio exec or overzealous intern can change the content on the hard copy on your shelf. Whether they screw how the disc is made is another issue, but at least they can’t just erase it and pretend the things they don’t like never happened.

Report: India Considering Censorship of Netflix, Amazon, Disney Streaming Video Content

With India and its second-largest population in the world, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney have aggressively sought an over-the-top video presence in the nascent market.

The influx of foreign SVOD services has reportedly prompted some government officials to ask for increased monitoring of content on the platforms — above existing regulations.

Reuters reports that public complaints about alleged obscenity or religious slights included in foreign streamed programming has some Indian lawmakers considering content censorship.

“The self-regulation isn’t the same for all, which is raising a concern … the directions are clear, we have to see how to address the problems,” an unidentified government official told the news agency.

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Indeed, Netflix and Disney-owned Hotstar agreed to sign a self-regulation of content code, while Amazon did not.

Netflix’s popular original series “Sacred Games,” about an Indian cop rooting out corruption and violence, has reportedly faced unsuccessful legal challenges regarding alleged offensive scenes and negative comments about Hindus and a former Prime Minister.

Other complaints have revolved around the lack of mandatory anti-smoking messages on Bollywood content streaming Netflix and Prime Video.

“With [censorship] regulation, all of the [global] content will need to be sanitized for India — a huge, expensive and time-consuming exercise,” global tech analyst Prasanto Roy told Reuters.

“Sacred Games,” now in its second season, has been an international hit for Netflix, including translation in 20 languages.

“We’ve been producing shows that are incredibly relevant in their home territories, and the nice windfall is that they get viewed all over the world,” Netflix CCO Ted Sarandos said March. “It’s really accelerating the brand perception of Netflix as … someone who’s producing content that you care about in every part of the world.”

 

Netflix Applies for License to Continue Operating in Turkey as Erdogan Government Cracks Down on Media

With President Tayyip Erdogan’s hardline Turkish government eyeing greater oversight on the media, Netflix has reportedly applied for a new license to continuing streaming content to about 200,000 subscribers.

RTUK, the country’s media regulatory agency, was recently granted greater authority over the country’s radio, television and online content — a move some critics contend could turn to censorship, according to Reuters.

Netflix’s license application was first disclosed by RTUK President Ebubekir Sahin in a post on Twitter. Sahin said more than 600 media entities operating in the country — including local streaming services Puhu TV and Blu TV — had applied for licenses.

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In addition to the license, media operators must adhere to RTUK content standards, which haven’t been disclosed. Failure to adhere to the guidelines after 30 days could result in license suspension or cancelation.

Erdogan, who is facing corruption charges and greater voter backlash, holds executive powers to issue executive decrees, appoint judges and heads of state institutions — including the media.

Parent Group Calls on Congress to Pass ‘Family Movie Act Clarification Act’ as Christmas Gift

The Parents Television Group, the longstanding censorship advocacy group founded by Christian conservatives, Dec. 5 called upon House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass the “Family Movie Act Clarification Act of 2018” (H.R. 6816) before lawmakers break for the winter holidays Dec. 14.

The bill seeks to amend the “Family Entertainment and Copyright Act,” which included the “Family Home Movie Act of 2005,” enabling third-party software to edit playback of Hollywood movie DVDs containing up to 14 different categories of objectionable content.

The amended resolution seeks to include technology capable of editing streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.

“With the quickly approaching end of … this session of Congress, we call on our elected leaders in Washington immediately to pass the Family Movie Act Clarification Act and present it to the President [Trump] for his signature, thereby providing an important and urgently-needed Christmas present for parents and for families,” Tim Winter, president of PTC, said in a statement.

In 2016, studios won a court decision against VidAngel, a company selling software enabling users to filter out language, nudity, violence, and other mature content from movies and TV series. The studios said the software was a form of copyright infringement.

The PTC claims 30 pro-family groups support the new bill, including Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, Dr. James Dobson of Family Talk, Bishop Harry Jackson of ICC Churches, and Ted Baehr of Movieguide.

Winter questions studios’ motives for fighting home entertainment editing software, claiming doing so deprives the industry much-needed sales of packaged media and digital content.

“The legislation is a no-brainer,” said Winter. “It simply brings the Family Movie Act – which allows families to filter explicit content from DVDs – onto contemporary streaming media platforms used by most Americans today. The pending legislation is consistent with, and perfectly honors, the congressional intent expressed when the original measure became law in 2005.”