Space Jam 2 is still months away from release, but the internet is already spinning its wheels after Warner Bros announced that Pepe Le Pew will not be part of the film. Why? Well, New York Times writer Charles M. Blow claimed in a tweet that the Looney Tunes character “added to rape culture.”
Blow also wrote an opinion piece where he addressed Speedy Gonzales, the “fastest mouse in all of Mexico,” and says “Some of the first cartoons I can remember included Pepé Le Pew, who normalized rape culture; Speedy Gonzales, whose friends helped popularize the corrosive stereotype of the drunk and lethargic Mexicans; and Mammy Two Shoes, a heavyset Black maid who spoke in a heavy accent.”
Though Blow himself did not ignite the Speedy Gonzales debate, his tweet had others questioning characters like Speedy, and others in the Looney Tunes universe. Latinos largely debated if Speedy was racist. The chatter got to comedian Gabriel Iglesias, who is voicing Speedy in the upcoming film, to respond.
“I am the voice of Speedy Gonzales in the new Space Jam,” Iglesias tweeted. “Does this mean they are gonna try to cancel Fluffy too? U can’t catch me cancel culture. I’m the fastest mouse in all of Mexico.”
While Iglesias jokes, here’s where things get murky. Speedy’s original history stems from the 1950s, where he was literally created to represent an American stereotype of what is considered to be a “typical” Mexican.
“Was the cartoon racist, offensive, insulting, prejudiced?” asks The Huffington Post. “Possibly the creators intended it to be so, and exploited the audience’s weaknesses, animosity and foibles against foreigners, but in the long run all that backfired and ended up making the whole world laugh at the shenanigans and antics of the hero of the “undermouse,” Speedy Gonzales, who is quick-witted, fast, nimble, funny, cute and endearing. He’s the “fastest mouse in all Mexico; a friend of everybody.”
So yes, Speedy Gonzales was created in racism and stereotypes, but as Latinos have done with “representation” everywhere, we found and attached ourselves to the small pieces of us that we connected with. In turn, we created a Speedy Gonzales into our own hero, outsmarting the white folks, for over 50 years and counting.