A federal judge ruled December 24 that Oklahoma City police unconstitutionally seized copies of The Tin Drum last summer, but the fracas over the 1979 film promises to continue for several months.
The German movie, which won the 1979 Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film, implies, but does not show, a boy engaging in oral sex with a 16-year-old girl. Conservatives say that under state law, a film does not have to be explicit to be child pornography. Even suggesting sex with a minor is illegal.
Last May, a Minnesota judge dismissed a suit brought against Bethel College by a former student who claimed that use of The Tin Drum in classroom study violated the school's promise not to use pornography (CT, June 16, 1997, p. 71). Bob Anderson, executive director of Oklahomans for Children and Families, heard a radio discussion about the Bethel suit and investigated the film's availability in his city.
He showed the sexual scenes of the movie to police, who turned to U.S. District Judge Richard C. Freeman. Freeman ruled a scene legally obscene.
Police seized copies of the film from libraries and video outlets, then asked video-store owners for the names of residents who had rented the film. One patron, Michael Camfield, development director for the Oklahoma American Civil Liberties Union, then sued police and Oklahoma City District Attorney Bob Macy for illegal seizure.
"The police probably were overagressive," Anderson says, "but as a community group, it is our duty to show the police illegal materials like this."
A ruling on whether the movie is child pornography will be decided in later civil suits.1