A few days ago we reported that Lepra, the World Health Organisation and The Society For Leprosy Affected People cried out in protest against a scene in the trailer for Aardman’s next offering, The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists. The trailer contains a scene where the Pirate Captain, played by Hugh Grant, swings onto a boat and demands its passengers give up all their gold, only to be told cheerily, “Afraid we don’t have any gold, old man. This is a leper boat!” by a man whose arm then falls off.
It was a joke that fell flat with the above organisations, as well as with one woman who had previously suffered from leprosy and who rather bizarrely wrote a letter to Michelle Obama, of all people, demanding that the White House boycott the film. Aardman responded to the complaints quickly, saying that, “Aardman take matters like this most seriously and is reviewing the situation.”
Now, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Aardman have decided to change the scene in order to placate Lepra and the others who have complained. It has not yet been said whether the scene will simply be altered or whether it will be removed from the film altogether.
After reviewing the matter, we decided to change the scene out of respect and sensitivity for those who suffer from leprosy. The last thing anyone intended was to offend anyone and it is clear to us that the right way to proceed is to honor the efforts made by organizations like ILEP to educate the public about this disease.
There are a couple of ways to look at this. First of all, it should be noted that Aardman are a bunch of princes for not only acknowledging but also acting upon concerns voiced by a very small minority. Around 95% of people in the world are naturally immune to leprosy, and according to a report by the World Health Organisation the number of people still suffering from the disease dropped by 15% between 2010 and 2011, with most countries that have previously been highly endemic now close to eliminating the disease altogether. There are only a very small number of cases in Europe and, as far as I’ve been able to gather, no cases at all in the UK. However, Aardman believe that even if only a small number of individuals will be offended by the joke, it is still too many people.
This move can’t technically be classed as censorship since it was a voluntary decision by the production company, and if people were legitimately upset by the scene then perhaps that’s argument enough by itself to remove it. I hate to introduce the phrase “political correctness gone mad” into any story so I won’t (even though I just did), but this story does lead me to question just how much material would have to be cut from movies in order to ensure that not one person would be offended by them.
Did one-eyed audience members object to Mackenzie Crook’s portrayal of Ragetti in Pirates of The Caribbean, whose temperamental glass eye was played up for laughs and gross-out gags? Pirate movies are a dangerous ground to tread upon in general, since peg-legged pirates are surely offensive to people with prosthetic limbs and calling someone a “scurvy dog” creates unfair associations between scurvy sufferers and canines. Let’s not forget that one of the Pirate Captain’s crew in Aardman’s new adventure suffers from albinism, so we can only hope that the film handles that kind of material with utmost care. We don’t need the albinos up in arms as well.