Pepe Le Pew has always been an uncomfortable character to watch. His whole schtick is that he’s a very horny French skunk and his hobby happens to be kissing and hugging unwilling objects of his affection as they attempt to squirm away. Penelope Pussycat was a recurring victim. Over the weekend, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow reminded people that Pepe is problematic, tweeting, “RW blogs are mad bc I said Pepe Le Pew added to rape culture. Let’s see. 1. He grabs/kisses a girl/stranger, repeatedly, w/o consent and against her will. 2. She struggles mightily to get away from him, but he won’t release her 3. He locks a door to prevent her from escaping.” Many who agree with him wondered whether Pepe Le Pew—who appeared in Space Jam—would be back again in the sequel, Space Jam: A New Legacy. We quickly got our answer.
On Sunday, Deadline reported that there was initially a scene featuring the French skunk, but it was cut out. And it reportedly has nothing to do with the online controversy. Deadline’s sources say that Pepe’s scene was shot by A New Legacy’s initial director, Terence Nance. When Nance left the movie, Malcolm D. Lee succeeded him and, for whatever reason, decided that the sequel didn’t need the scene. But perhaps it should’ve been included after all, because Pepe reportedly learns the hard way that he’s not getting away with his predatory behavior.
Here’s how Deadline described the scene:
Pepe was set to appear in a black-and-white Casablanca-like Rick’s Cafe sequence. Pepe, playing a bartender, starts hitting on a woman at the bar played by [Greice] Santo. He begins kissing her arm, which she pulls back, then slamming Pepe into the chair next to hers. She then pours her drink on Pepe, and slaps him hard, sending him spinning in a stool, which is then stopped by LeBron James’ hand. James and Bugs Bunny are looking for Lola, and Pepe knows her whereabouts. Pepe then tells the guys that Penelope cat has filed a restraining order against him. James makes a remark in the script that Pepe can’t grab other Tunes without their consent.
So, ironically, removing the problematic character means that Pepe doesn’t face retaliation in the Looney Tunes world. As for Santo, a spokesperson told Deadline that the actress is upset about the scene getting cut for this reason: “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.”
While we won’t get to see that bonkers scene where Pepe is handed his ass at Rick’s, we now know that even in the Looney Tunes world, Pepe Le Pew isn’t immune to being called out for being a creep. At least we narrowly avoided a Pepe Le Pew movie made by an alleged rapist.