It sounds like a great movie for the school holidays, but beware, Show Dogs, which releases in South African cinemas on July 6, may contain scenes that groom children for sexual abuse.
Gateway News carried out an investigation into this concern after receiving an email alert from Cause for Justice (CFJ) urging parents not to let young children watch the movie, which is classified 7-9 PG LV, until the inappropriate scenes have been cut.
Cause for Justice says it sent urgent letters to the Minister of Communications, Nu Metro and Ster Kinekor concerning the film on June 12, and followed up on June 19, but had received no responses.
Following our investigation which confirmed that there were grounds for concern, Gateway News today emailed an urgent request to the Film and Publications Board to reclassify the film.
The disturbing content, which has provoked an international outcry by parents and experts, shows the main character, an undercover police dog, who competes in a dog show to rescue a kidnapped baby panda, being subjected to unwanted touching of his private parts. To qualify for the final round, he is required to have his private parts inspected. Although he wants the touching to stop, he is told to endure the discomfort by going to a “zen place” for the sake of receiving the reward of qualifying for the final round and rescuing the baby panda.
These scenes are disturbing because child abusers use these tactics when grooming children for sexual abuse, says CFJ. Abusers tell children to pretend they are somewhere else (like going to a “zen place”) and promise children rewards (similar to qualifying for the final round and rescuing the baby panda) for enduring the discomfort of the sexual abuse.
CFJ says its is in full agreement with international interest groups and experts that children’s films should not send dangerous and confusing messages that endorse unwanted genital and other intimate touching. Children need to know that they have bodily autonomy and the ability to say “no”. The possibility that children, not realising what they are doing, may play-act the inappropriate scenes with house pets and/or other children, is equally concerning.
In response to the initial international public outcry in May, the producers of Show Dogs undertook to cut the inappropriate scenes from the film. However, CFJ says this seems to have been a mere publicity stunt, as the disturbing or inappropriate scenes have allegedly not been removed.
Gateway News approached Nu Metro, Ster Kinekor and the Minister of Communications regarding the urgent letters sent to them by Cause for Justice. The cinema companies referred Gateway News to the studio that is distributing the film in South Africa. On calling the Ministry of Communications yesterday we were advised to email the chief of staff Sinky Letsholo, which we did yesterday but to date we have received no response.
Les Kgobe, a spokesman for Filmfinity which is distributing Show Dogs in South Africa initially responded: “Please be advised that the version of Show Dogs being released in South Africa is the version which has been revised following similar concerns raised after the release in America. As a result, the two scenes which audiences in America found concerning have been edited. Furthermore, the new version of Show Dogs was also resubmitted to the Film and Publications Board for reclassification and has received a 7-9PG IAT LV certificate.”
Gateway News sent Filmfinity a link to an article ( https://lancasteronline.com/opinion/columnists/the-movie-show-dogs-normalizes-sexual-abuse/article_3f8b107e-69ee-11e8-83d2-77b62467c5a9.html ) by Linda Crocket, director of Samaritan Safe Church/Safe Places in Lancaster, PA, in the United States in which she reports that on viewing the version of Show Dogs that was edited by distributors Global Road Entertainment after an outcry about the child abuse hazard, she discovered that the disturbing content was still in the film.
In her report Crocket says the cinema at which she viewed the film immediately pulled it after she drew their attention to the offensive scenes.
Gateway News asked Filmfinity if it was certain that the disturbing scene regarding the dog being persuaded to accept unwanted initimate touching had been removed from the film. We also asked them whether, if they found the scenes were not removed from the movie, they would accommodate Cause For Justice’s urgent requests that they do not release the film until the age classification was changed or the the problem scenes were cut.
Responding on behalf of Filmfinity, Kgobe said: “Kindly note that we are releasing the edited version of Show Dogs in the territory. The extent of the edit was not directed by us but matches those made to the version used in the US post the release of the initial version.
“Please note that all concerns related to the classification of films in South Africa must be addressed directly to the Film and Publications Board (FPB) to follow due process for further investigation and resolution. This matter will accordingly need to be addressed directly to the FPB by you.”
The company provided Gateway News with contact information for the FPB and said: “Post the resolution of the matter between yourselves and the FPB, we will await feedback from the FPB should any revisions be required.”
Gateway News sent an email to the FPB today, outlining the concerns about the film and requesting that it be reclassified.
We also sent Filmfinity an email, asking, in view of the serious problem of child abuse in South Africa, it would not be more ethical and responsible for them to view the film themselves and take appropriate action in the interests of protecting children, rather than shifting responsibility to Gateway News and the Film Publications Board. At the time of publishing this report we had not yet received a response from Filmfinity to those questions.
Highlighting the danger of the soon release of Show Dogs in the school holidays, CFJ says: “At the current age restriction, impressionable children as young as 9 or 10 can go see the movie without a parent or guardian being present and providing the necessary guidance. Since there is no classification category of 13 to 15 PG, the only remaining appropriate classification is a “16” age restriction.”
CFJ Executive Director and Legal Counsel, Ryan Smit says: “This film arrives on South African shores at a time when child sexual abuse is a major problem in our society and equally worrying, child-on-child sexual abuse is on the rise.”
“South Africa faces alarmingly high levels of violence against children, including sexual violence. Sexual violence against children is not only perpetrated by adults against children, but also by children on other children. The current age restriction of 7-9 PG LV given by the FPB is dangerously inappropriate and socially irresponsible.”
CFJ encourages parents to protect younger children by refraining from watching Show Dogs until it has been confirmed that the inappropriate scenes have been cut.