Hair of the Dog: The Dam Busters remake

The Dambusters

WARNING: In the interests of proper reporting, I am going to use a racially-charged word as a pronoun. Some may find this offensive.

The recent news of Peter Jackson’s intention to produce a remake of the war classic “The Dam Busters” has stirred a contentious issue. Jackson, known for his work on the renowned “Lord of the Rings” series, aims to stay true to the actual events involving the Royal Air Force squadron, renowned for their utilisation of specialised “bouncing” bombs to disrupt Germany’s war industry by attacking dams.

Original The Dam Busters movie poster

However, a significant hurdle has arisen. The squadron’s leader, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, had a beloved pet dog, a black Labrador, whom he affectionately named “Nigger” – a reflection of the era’s insensitivity.

This particular detail has plunged Jackson’s remake into a maelstrom of controversy. While he desires to maintain authenticity by retaining the dog’s original name, which also served as a codename for part of the operation, concerns about the potential impact on the film’s reception, particularly in the US market, have been raised. Suggestions for alternative names have been proposed but dismissed by the remake’s Executive Producer (distinct from Jackson).

Historical screenings of the film have varied in their handling of this sensitive matter. In past TV broadcasts in the US, the name was often replaced with “Trigger.” Notably, in 2001, ITV in Britain aired an edited version that removed all references to the name, drawing criticism from a group called Index For Censorship. The group contended that removing the word was unnecessary and that the film should be viewed in its historical context. Conversely, the broadcasting company, Granada, expressed sensitivity toward potential viewer offense.

So, what’s the consensus? Should Jackson uphold complete fidelity to the historical account, including retaining the controversial name? Or should he opt for a change to avert potential backlash? Is this debate blowing the issue out of proportion, or is it an essential ethical consideration in adapting historical narratives for contemporary audiences?