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British Film Rating System Is Being Adjusted to Deal With Sexual Violence


Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade (2018)

The Brtish Board of Film Classification (BBFC) holds a deliberation every five years where the organization conducts a survey of thousands of moviegoers. This year, the major concern of filmgoers was the depiction of sexual violence, rape, and assault in movies around a certain age demographic, according to a report from The GuardianCraig Lapper, the head of compliance at the BBFC, said the following about the feedback:

“The feedback we have had from the public during the current consultation is that they don’t think there is any place for depictions of sexual violence at 12A at all. The key message from the guideline consultation was heightened concern about sexual violence across the board. Although we operate very strict standards around sexual violence there was an appetite on the part of the public for us to be even more cautious than we are at the moment.”

For those unfamiliar with the British rating system, 12A was introduced as a rating in 2002, and applies only to movies releases in the cinema. “Films under this category are considered to be unsuitable for young children. Cinemas in the United Kingdom are only permitted to supply tickets to see a 12A film to children under the age of 12 if they are accompanied by an adult aged 18 or over.” So, it’s basically one year younger than our PG-13.

Unlike our system, there isn’t a jump directly from that rating to an R equivalent; there is a 15 rating in the middle, before films are considered too sexually explicit and given a rating of 18. Within the 15 rating, sexual violence is allowed if “discreet and justified by context.”

Something brought up in the Guardian piece is that, under these guidelines, a movie like The Duchess would be given a rating of 15 rather than 12A, (it has a PG-13 rating in the U.S.), because there is a rape scene in the movie. Censorship and ratings are difficult because they’re often homophobic and sexist when it comes to how the powers that be rate sex scenes between heterosexual vs. homosexual couples, as explored in the 2006 documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated. The doc also mentioned how scenes of sexual pleasure focusing on a woman’s orgasm will be giving a higher rating than a man’s.

Still, I do see why people would think that depicting onscreen sexual assault might be a lot for movies that are meant for twelve-year-olds, especially if there is no warning. With one in four girls (24.7%) and one in six boys (16%) being sexually abused before the age of 18, according to the NSVRC, that kind of violence can be triggering for some. For fifteen-year-olds, I don’t think to require it to be discreet and justified by context is a big ask. You can still address the realities of those situations without turning them into violent rape scenes.

I think having a middle age group rating is extremely helpful and would have been great for movies like Eighth Grade, which got slapped with an “R” rating here but got a 15 in the U.K and a 14 in Canada. Teenagers don’t need to be sheltered; sexual violence is a reality for many young people, but that doesn’t mean that films often take a tasteful examination of that subject matter.

In general, there is a bigger emotional and lived maturity between twelve and fifteen, so having a system that allows there to be a bridge between preteens and adults already sounds better than what we have.

(via IndieWire, image: A24)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.