In a move that goes against the very reason for the service’s existence, Disney has censored various releases of William Friedkin’s The French Connection, removing a racial slur in an ostensible attempt to ‘update’ the film for modern sensibilities.
Based on the 1961 busting of a heroin smuggling operation by real-life NYPD detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, the 1961 crime thriller follows NYPD detectives Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (played by Gene Hackman) and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider) as they seek to stop a local drug smuggling ring led by the notorious kingpin Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey).
An instant hit upon its release, the film would go on to take home five of eight nominated Oscars at the 44th Academy Awards, winning the awards for Best Picture, Best Actor (Hackman), Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay but losing those for Best Supporting Actor (Scheider), Best Cinematography, and Best Sound Mixing.
In the years since, The French Connection has come to be widely regarded as a pinnacle of the cinematic medium, so much so that the film was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in 2005.
Originally released by 20th Century Fox, the film would find itself under the ownership of Disney in 2019, courtesy of their acquisition of their now-former rival – and it is under the House of Mouse’s ownership that it would apparently be censored.
As first detailed by veteran entertainment journalist and Hollywood Elsewhere proprietor Jeffrey Wells on June 4th, the edit in question was first brought to public attention in relation to the version of the film hosted on The Criterion Channel’s respective streaming service.
At the beginning of the film, a scene occurs wherein Doyle runs into Cloudy and notices that the latter is currently dealing with a wound given to him by a random drug dealer.
Noticing his partner’s discomfort, Doyle mocks, “You dumb guinea.”
[The scene in question can be seen at 0:52 in the above video]
Annoyed, Cloudy pushes back, “How the hell did I know he had a knife?”, prompting Doyle to opine, “Never trust a n—-r.”
“He coulda been white!” exclaims Cloudy in turn, to which Doyle asserts, “Never trust anyone.”
Originally taking place, per Wells, at roughly 00:09:42 into the film’s runtime, this scene is now complete absent from The Criterion Channel’s release.
Unfortunately, it seems that this censorship extends to more than just this one version of the film.
According to sources who reached out to Wells, this edit has also been made to both its iTunes release and a copy provided for a May 12th screening of the film at the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, CA.
As of writing, neither Disney nor any of the entities discovered to have been distributing the edited version of The French Connection have offered public comment on the film’s censorship.