A June 25 ruling by Oklahoma County District Judge Richard Freeman has declared part of the award-winning film The Tin Drum "obscene," and has led to confiscation of the film from libraries, video stores and at least one home in the county.
Judge Freeman made a ruling at the request of the Oklahoma City Police Department. The police received a copy of the film from Bob Anderson, executive director of Oklahomans for Children and Families (OCAF), who had checked the film out of the Metropolitan Library System.
The controversy actually began months ago when OCAF began attacking Metro's open access policy. OCAF accused the library of exposing children to "sexually explict" materials, and asked that the materials be segregated so that children could not have access to them. They attended commission meetings armed with a list of "objectionable" materials which the library owned. Library commissioners maintained that the library did not purchase materials considered obscene by state statutes, and that it is the parents' job, not the the library's job, to decide what materials their children can access.
At a February public hearing, a commission committee recommended that the library system maintain its current open access policy. OCAF began making appearances at city council meetings across the county, and they were successful in getting resolutions supporting their cause passed in two communities -- Oklahoma City and The Village. At a Midwest City Council meeting in March, OCAF distributed literature that referred to the library as an "adult bookstore," and that accused the system's librarians of being "smut peddlers."
The commission unanimously reaffirmed the system's open access policy at it's April 17 meeting.
Failing to change local policy, the group made their next stop at the State Capitol, where they were almost successful in having labeling and censorship legislation passed. The proposed legislation would have prevented the Oklahoma Department of Libraries from distributing State Aid funds to local libraries that did not segregate materials. A last-minute writing campaign from librarians, and conference committee action by Senator Cal Hobson (D-Lexington), killed the proposal.
OCAF's next course of action was confronting the Metropolitan Library Commissioners at their June 19 meeting, demanding that commissioners watch selected scenes from The Tin Drum. The commission reminded OCAF that the library had a policy in dealing with challenged materials, and asked the group to follow that policy. In a heated exchange, captured on video and run on local television stations, Anderson threatened to turn the copy of the film over to the police.
Anderson turned the film in to the police, and Judge Freeman's ruling has sent shockwaves through the state's library and civil liberties communities.
OCAF celebrated the victory, and Anderson said, "I think this validates what we have been saying since October ('96), that they (the library) have material there not suitable for children."
In a Daily Oklahoman story, Metro attorney William Comstock said that the library "respectfully disagrees" with Judge Freeman's ruling, but that the library will "certainly abide by his finding."
The Tin Drum is an Academy Award winning film which shared the 1979 Cannes Film Festival's grand prize with Apocalypse Now. Set in Germany against the rise and fall of the Third Reich, the story follows the life of three-year-old Oskar, who consciously decides to stop growing because of the adult behavior he sees around him. He remains three years old for 18 years. Although he does not grow, he begins adopting some of the adult behavior he rejected earlier. The scene in question involves a sexual liaison between Oskar and a teenage girl.On the day of Judge Freeman's obscenity ruling, 41 patrons were on the system's waiting list to see the film. The controversy fueled interest in The Tin Drum, but Oklahoma County citizens no longer have the freedom to own or to view this film.