William Friedkin’s 1971 film The French Connection is now hailed as a classic of the crime genre. Unfortunately, it's definitely also a product of its time. While using slurs is never okay, it was definitely more socially acceptable as a whole back in the 1970s. As a result, they’ve shown up a lot frequently in older movies. Sometimes, they’re even used by protagonists or people we’re supposed to otherwise connect with. That’s the case with Gene Hackman’s cop character, Popeye Doyle, in The French Connection.

The film is a fictional account of a real-life case, where a plot to smuggle drugs into New York from France was uncovered. It also features one of the most famous car chases in the history of cinema. It involves Doyle, in a car, chasing an elevated train across New York City.

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

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In a key scene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle uses the n-word — and although the exact specifics of who removed it or why have yet to be uncovered, fans have discovered that the version of the film currently streaming on the Criterion Channel, has excised this slur. (Fans have also discovered that the print of the film currently available on Apple’s iTunes store is censored as well.)

Criterion is typically known for restoring and streaming classic or culturally impactful movies in versions intended by their filmmakers — not the sort of place you expect to find a censored print of a film. Ever since Disney acquired 20th Century Fox and the Fox film library, the company has controlled the rights to The French Connection, although it’s not yet clear whether they were the ones responsible for removing the offending word from the film.

Perhaps what we're seeing here is a kind of historical revisionism that seeks to deny a problematic past in the pursuit of more money. While it would be better if Hollywood never had a phase where this was okay in the first place, that's not the case. But those who do not acknowledge history are doomed to repeat it.

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