In the days following the horrific Newtown massacre—in which 20 schoolchildren were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary—the folks in entertainment media were especially careful not to offend. Violent and death-related content was suddenly (and quite transparently) deemed bad for business or in poor taste: The Pittsburgh premiere of the Tom Cruise action movie Jack Reacher was postponed, for example, and the LA premiere of Quentin Tarantino's brutally violent Django Unchained was canceled (with Django star Jamie Foxx himself cautioning against gratuitous violence in film). In TV land, the debut of the reality TV special Best Funeral Ever was delayed, Ted Nugent's celebration of gun culture was nixed from the Discovery Channel's schedule, a Blake Shelton Christmas special that features a reindeer assassination was pulled, and the recent season finales of Dexter and Homeland opened with disclaimers. On commercial radio, pop songs like Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks" and Ke$ha's "Die Young" received substantially reduced airplay. And let's not forget that Barry Manilow postponed a concert out of respect and concern for the affected families.
This is how the entertainment industry generally reacts when a national trauma occurs. There's no reason to think that altering, delaying, or refusing to air violent television and film scenes will help heal national wounds. But considering the immediate outpouring of PR gestures from across the American entertainment industry, it's curious that the only new movie that prominently features a child being shot to death seems to have gotten a pass.
The movie is Les Misérables, the big-budget adaptation of the beloved musical set in post-revolutionary France. It's directed by acclaimed filmmaker Tom Hooper, has a star-studded cast, and is slated to be released in the United States on Christmas Day. (Spoiler to follow.)
Anyone familiar with the stage musical or Victor Hugo's book on which it is based knows how this goes: During the June Rebellion in 1832, armed republicans set up barricades in the streets of Paris in an attempt to spark an overthrow of the monarchy. Among the rebels is Gavroche (played by Daniel Huttlestone in the 2012 film version), a prepubescent, singing street child. In a moment of tragic heroism, the boy sneaks out from behind the barricade and is repeatedly shot by royal troops.
Here's the scene, from a stage production of Les Miz that featured Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers as Gavroche:
Out of all the major motion pictures released at the end of this year, Les Miz bears the clearest and most potentially upsetting parallel to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary; Django Unchained and Jack Reacher do not have any direct likeness to the Newtown mass shooting, beyond the mere fact that they contain violent images. And yet the sensitivity and courtesy shown by the PR teams of other violent movies released this month is nowhere to be found with Les Miz.