Oklahoma County District Judge Richard Freeman’s decision a decade ago to ban the Academy Award-winning film “The Tin Drum” still goes down as one of the most embarrassing moments in local history.
Freeman might as well have issued a judicial decree proclaiming only religious folks and meth-lab cooks would be welcomed henceforth in Oklahoma City. Okies with serious creative bents, the decree suggested, would need to leave for debauched places like New York City or, gulp, even Dallas, that cornucopia of culture where you still can get shot for not wearing cowboy boots or driving a SUV sans longhorns on the hood.
The 10-year anniversary of Freeman’s decision this month must be retold again and again as a morality tale so the city never finds itself in such a world-renowned embarrassing situation again. Here’s what happened:
In June 1997, Bob Anderson ” head of Oklahoma for Children and Families, an ultraconservative “family” organization ” took the movie to local police authorities, complaining the film was obscene. The police took the movie to Freeman to get a ruling on the issue.
Directed by Volker Schlöndorff, the 1979 film depicts the life of the child Oskar, who refuses to grow up beyond the age of 3 or give up the tin drum he plays annoyingly throughout his life until he wills himself to grow. The film is based on Günter Grass’ brilliant, Nobel Prize-winning novel of the same title. In the film, which criticizes Nazis, Oskar has sex with a young woman. The sex scene is a simulated, under-the-covers encounter, extremely tame by contemporary standards.
The film won the Academy Award for best Foreign Film and the Cannes Film Festival Palm d’Or award.
Amazingly, Freeman met Anderson’s freakish demands (who in the world would even watch the overly symbolic and subtitled movie in Oklahoma?) and ruled a section of the movie obscene. The tragic farce escalated when police officers seized copies of the film from a library, six video stores and three people, one of whom was Michael Camfield, a staff member with the local American Civil Liberties Union. Camfield later sued Oklahoma City over the incident but lost his case.
Freeman’s ruling was overturned, of course, but not before Oklahoma City became the laughingstock of the entire world as news spread. The incident became the basis for an excellent documentary, “Banned in Oklahoma,” which is included on “The Tin Drum” DVD. Directed and produced by former University of Oklahoma professor Gary D. Rhodes, it redeemed the state’s reputation to some extent.
Some uptight bozos here think they have a right to tell people what they can watch or read or do in their private lives. Oklahoma long has had a ban on selling adult pornography, which is freely available elsewhere and on the Internet. Recently, a local library commission was pressured by state Rep. Sally Kern, R-OklahomaCity, and other religious crusaders to re-shelf nonsexual, gay-themed children’s books in local libraries so no children actually can read them.
But none of these really compare to the “Tin Drum” comedy of errors, which really tarnished the city’s image. On the 10th anniversary of the ruling, the question remains whether future censorship fiascoes lie in waiting: Could it happen again?
Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and author of the progressive blog “Okie Funk: Notes From the Outback,” http://www.okiefunk.com.