In addition to loving to read, I am a big movie buff. I make it a point to introduce my 10-year-old son to some of the films that were my favorites when I was growing up. Once in a while, we come across some scenes in a film that are somewhat offensive. This happened when we were watching the 1975 classic
The Return of the Pink Panther, starring Peter Sellers. The moment occurred after a scene in which Clouseau is ambushed by his Chinese servant, Kato, resulting in the total destruction of Clouseau’s apartment. Later, Clouseau is talking to a co-worker at police headquarters about the incident, and he refers to Kato in several derogatory and racist terms. My son instantly turned to me and exclaimed, “Hey, that’s racist!”
When I heard my son say this, I had one of those rare moments when you feel you have done a good job as a parent. Granted, our house is a little different—a large percentage of the children’s books in our collection contain diversity themes, since publishing these kinds of books is what I do for a living. Our home may also be more racially aware than most because growing up with these kinds of books has prompted—and sometimes required—many conversations with my son about race, prejudice, and issues of right and wrong.
The offending scene in The Return of the Pink Panther did not stop us from laughing our heads off. It is still a hilarious movie, and the slapstick humor and utter cluelessness of the Clouseau character is timeless. Sure, we discussed why Clouseau is racist, but we came to the joint conclusion that his general ignorance and stupidity are also the cause of his intolerance.
An experience like this is an example of why I am totally against banning old films and cartoons because of outdated perspectives or off-color humor. These uncomfortable moments create opportunities to discuss issues and behavior and explain why they are problematic. Being able to have regular and frequent conversations about race removes the tendency for the topic to become taboo. Such conversations also allow us, as adults and parents, to become comfortable discussing a sensitive subject with kids—and that is not always easy to do.