The Censorship Of Films
Censorship of art dates back to the early 16th century when Roman magistrates would censere or assess and give their opinion about various arts which would affect public life. The Lumière brothers held their first commercial screening of projected motion pictures in Paris in 1895. With this, films became a dramatically potent medium of expression and film makers and directors seemed to wield immense potential. By the first decade of the twentieth century, film censorship boards had come up in various parts of the world.
In different countries, films are censored to monitor for varying levels of social and political issues, the depiction of which may be deemed disturbing for the people. Violence, sexual content, abusive language, drug use, abusive content, revolutionary content, and human rights violations are common factors that come under the censorship “snip”. Censorship has been used as a political vehicle disallowing ideas contrary or inimical to the regime.
The film rating system is one of the most common forms of censorship in any country.
"A motion picture rating system is designated to classify films with regard to suitability for audiences in terms of issues such as sex, violence, substance abuse, profanity, impudence or other types of mature content. A particular issued rating can be called a certification, classification, certificate or rating"
Who Censors Films?
The composition of film censor boards has been at the center of debate across time and geographies. In countries such as the People’s Republic of China, the film censor boards are government agencies. Any movies which showcase democracy or even events such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre are heavily censored or even banned.
Between 1964 and 1988, during the dictatorship regime in Brazil, a number of films were banned under federal law. In 2005, a study titled “Memory of Censorship In Brazilian Cinema” was published. The study released 175 films banned during the dictatorship. Later in 2009, 269 other banned films from the era were released.
In other countries, the film industry itself sets its standards. In the US, the ‘Motion Picture Producers and Disturbers Association of America' was established in 1922 with Will H. Hays as its president. Hays's initiated an active process of "self-regulation" to prevent external censorship and came up with the famous Production Code.
In countries like India, the film censor board members have been chosen from among industry veterans, public office holders, renowned intellectuals, and public leaders.
Brief History of Film Censorship In The U.S.
1897 - A State of Maine statute prohibited the exhibition of the heavyweight championship between James J. Corbett and Robert Fitzsimmons and other prizefight films.
1909 - The New York Board of Motion Picture Censorship was established.
1915 - Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio - US Supreme Court ruled that motion pictures were not covered by Ohio's free speech protections.
1922 - Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) was created.
1930 - The MPPDA adopted the Hays Code (Production Code).
1933 – Catholic Legion of Decency was founded. It was later renamed National Legion of Decency
1945 - The MPPDA was renamed The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
1952 - Joseph Burstyn, Inc v. Wilson - In the “Miracle Decision”, the US Supreme Court ruled that banning commercial release of a film was "sacrilegious", a "restraint on freedom of speech" and a violation of the First Amendment.
1953 - The Moon is Blue is released without Production Code Seal of Approval.
1968 - Production code was replaced by MPAA's movie classification system.
Motion Picture Ratings In The U.S.
Ratings for motion pictures in the United States are issued by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) through the system known as Classification and Rating Administration (CARA). Unlike countries where films are subject to government supervision, the CARA is a voluntary industry system which was established in 1968. Most of the major studios in the country submit their movies to be rated through CARA. The domestic film industry is heavily dependent on these rating systems. The movies rated through CARA bear the MPAA insignia.
As of 2013, the ratings are:
G – General Audiences – “All Ages Admitted”. The content in these films are not likely to be objectionable to most parents. The films have use of minimum rude and offensive language or use of curses. These movies have minimal violence, no bloodshed, and minimal rude or offensive language. They are considered fit for viewing by children.
PG – Parental Guidance Suggested – “Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children”. These movies are likely to be unsuitable for young children. They usually include violent scenes, crude humor, mild abusive or curse words, and/or some mild horror scenes.
PG-13 – Parents Strongly Cautioned – “Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13”. These films are usually unsuited for viewing by children under 13 because of explicit sexual references, suggestive language, about 3 or 4 uses of abusive language, references to drugs, moderately strong horror scenes, violence and bloodshed.
R – Restricted – “Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian”. Unaccompanied children under the age of 17 are not allowed to watch these films. Parents are urged to research and understand the content of the movie before taking their children for the film. The films usually contain strong violence and bloodshed, depiction of explicit drug use and sex scenes.
NC-17 – “No One 17 and Under Admitted”. These films are prohibited to any viewer under 17 years of age. These films may contain explicit nudity or sex scenes, strong violence, drug use, and other content unsuitable for children.
10 Films That Created A Censor Stir
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) – USA – This movie was banned in many nations because of sexual references made to Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene.
Triumph des Willens (1935) – Germany – This propaganda movie by Leni Riefenstahl captures the full force of the Nazi regime at the Congress in Nuremberg. The film was commissioned by Adolf Hitler himself.
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) – Italy - Written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini based on the works of Marquis de Sade, the film depicts explicit sex, sodomy, and perversion.
The Birth of a Nation (1915) – USA – Directed by D W Griffith, the film stirred up a controversy for the portrayal of African American men and the glorification of the Ku Klux Klan.
A Clockwork Orange (1971) – UK – Directed by Stanley Kubrick, it was controversial because of its depiction of violence, rape and other psychiatric disturbances in an imagined dystopian Britain.
Freaks (1932) – USA – This Tod Browning film contained the extraordinary violence of circus performers with deformities.
Viridiana (1961) – Spain – This Spanish-Mexican film directed by Luis Buñuel gained much fame and notoriety at the same time. Charged with blasphemy, the film also won the Palme d'Or at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival
Last Tango in Paris (1972) – France – Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, this Franco-Italian film came under much criticism due to its depiction of explicit sexual content and due to the emotional disturbances it portrayed.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – USA – Directed by Arthur Penn, the movie became one of the first to feature unconventional depictions of sex and violence. The film's ending came to be known as "one of the bloodiest death scenes in cinematic history"
Poison (1991) – USA – This Todd Haynes film kicked up a major controversy due to the sexually explicit content it depicted.
Censorship Controversies Around The World
China – In China, most of the art forms, including films, are subject to government censorship. Some of the subjects that are common targets with the censors include democracy, corruption in public offices, food safety, and religion. Most international films undergo brutal censorship before being released in China. At the heart of the recent film censorship debate is Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. The movie screening was halted citing technical difficulties but industry experts claim that it was due to the bloodshed and revolutionary nature of the plot.
India – In India, the Central Board of Film Certification handles the censorship of films under the Cinematograph Act 1952. In 2011, the Central Board of Film Certification demanded that scenes of rape and torture in the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo be cut. Director David Fincher refused to comply and the film was banned.
Canada – In Canada, film censorship is the responsibility of the regional film censor boards. In 2006, film series titled Bumfights produced by Indecline Films was banned from being screened in seven provinces. The other three regions screened it with an 'R' rating.
UK – The British Board of Film Classification looks into film censorship in the UK. The board completed a century of film censorship in January 2013. Among the recent films banned by the board, the horror film The Human Centipede 2 stirred quite a controversy. The film was banned due to a high level of obscene and sexually violent content. Later in October 2011, the board cleared it for screening for adults only after the distributors made about 32 cuts in the film.
Brazil - In Brazil, films are currently censored and rated by the DEJUS (Departamento de Justiça, Classificação, Títulos e Qualificação – Department of Justice, Rating, Titles and Qualification). In 2011, A Serbian Film was stalled from hitting the screens because of lawsuits related to its censorship.
Pakistan – The Central Board of Film Censors in Islamabad is responsible for film censorship in Pakistan. In March 2013, the board banned GI Joe 2: Retaliation, the sequel to 2009′s GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra because of its depiction of Pakistan as a failed state. The film also has a fictional account of an invasion of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities.