Speedy Gonzales may be the fastest mouse in all of Mexico, but the divisive Looney Tunes character was almost caught by the culture wars. Earlier this year, Space Jam: A New Legacy — the LeBron James-led sequel to the 1996 box-office hit that paired Michael Jordan with classic Warner Bros. cartoon characters, including Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck — made headlines when news emerged that one Looney Tune didn't make the final cut. Amorous skunk Pepé Le Pew, whose critics argued that he "normalized rape culture," was scrapped from the starting lineup of James's Tune Squad early on in the film's production.
That news got Gabriel Iglesias's heart pumping as fast as Speedy's legs. The Mexican-American comedian — better known by his stage name "Fluffy" — had recently cast as the voice of Speedy Gonzales in A New Legacy when word of Pepé's vanishing act broke. "I had just gotten the part and I'm like, 'Are you kidding me?'" Iglesias tells Yahoo Entertainment. "I just got this job and now you're trying to take it away?" (Watch our video interview above.)
So Iglesias decided to stay a step ahead of the controversy by answering Speedy's critics directly on Twitter. "I am the voice of Speedy Gonzales in the new Space Jam," he wrote in a March 6 tweet. "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."
Asked whether Speedy was ever in any danger of being benched alongside Pepé Le Pew, Space Jam director Malcolm D. Lee says that was never part of his game plan. "[Gabriel] is one of the funniest people on the planet, and he embraced Speedy and gave us some great things to work with," says Lee, who replaced the film's original director, Terance Nance, early on in production. "People love Speedy Gonzales."
Lee confirms that he made the call to cut a Nance-directed sequence that would have featured Pepé. But he reveals that, contrary to initial reports, he did try to find room for the character — who had several prominent scenes in the original Space Jam — elsewhere in the film. "We tried to place Pepé in a couple of places, but the jokes never really landed for us," Lee says, emphasizing that the larger controversy surrounding the character had no impact on his final decision. "We had a limited time in the amount of Tunes we could work with, so Pepé was a casualty." (Pepé's absence will continue, though: The Hollywood Reporter reported in March that Warner Bros. has no plans to feature him in any upcoming Looney Tunes-related productions.)
For his part, Iglesias says that part of his concern about Speedy's fate came from watching critics "lump the two characters together" when the Pepé news first broke. "I understand the way things look for Pepé, but what was Speedy Gonzales's crime? He was Mexican and he was fast — that's not a crime, that's job security as far as I'm concerned! So I stood up for the character and said, 'Naw, cancel culture. I don't think so.' If a Mexican isn't offended by this Mexican character, why should you be?"
Growing up in a large Mexican-American family in California, Iglesias calls Speedy a childhood favorite. "Speedy Gonzales was a hero in my house, he's still a hero in my house," the comedian says, adding that he was honored to be one of the first Latinx performers to voice the character since his 1953 debut when he was performed by Mel Blanc. (Prior to Iglesias, Dino Andrade voiced Speedy in Cartoon Network's 2018 New Looney Tunes series.)
Interestingly, when he first met with the studio for the role, Iglesias says that Warner Bros. was open to the idea of altering the voice that Blanc invented decades ago. "[Warner Bros.] actually said, 'Hey, how do you feel about the voice?'" he recalls. "'Do you think it's too stereotypical? Do you want to change it?' Knowing that I had the opportunity to change that voice and put an end to the way he sounded, that's a lot of pressure on my part. I was like, 'You know what? ... I think Speedy Gonzales needs to sound like Speedy Gonzales.' They said, 'You don't think it's too stereotypical?' And I said, 'You have not been to my house!'"
Iglesias says that his Space Jam experience wasn't his first brush with "cancel culture," and it likely won't be his last. "I deal with it all the time," the comic says. "I think it's more so through social media than anything else. When fans come out and see my show, they know where my head and heart is at. ... They know I'm going to tell stories and I'm going to talk about myself, my friends and my family. However, they interpret it, that's on them because I'm very clear what my show is about. ... I think everyone should have equal rights and the right to be as happy or as miserable as they want. If you hear that, and you still get offended, then you are the problem, not me."
Iglesias points to social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook as being the source of most of the "cancel culture" controversies that make headlines, even if they're sometimes founded on simple misunderstandings. "A lot of times people get upset thinking that someone's trying to do something bad, but maybe the person doesn't understand," he says. "I've gotten in trouble for posting a tag in a restaurant! People will be like, 'Do you know that they stand for this and this,' and I'm just like, 'I am more hungry than woke!' I think they need to pump the brakes a little bit, and just stop being so quick to attack. Ask questions before you start loading the app."
Space Jam: A New Legacy premieres July 16 in theaters and on HBO Max.
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by Jason Fitzpatrick
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