The BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) has recently announced that they received more complaints in 2011 about ballet-horror Black Swan than any other film. The film received a 15 rating here in the UK, yet it still received 40 complaints (which isn’t that many really) from audience members, most of which stating that the lesbian scene between Natalie Portman’s and Mila Kunis’ characters was inappropriate for the rating.
I must admit that the scene in question is rather graphic, particularly for a 15 rated film, but it’s only one scene in the entire film and no other scene would warrant a rating any higher than a 15. This then begs the question, should the scene have been trimmed down or cut completely or should the age rating have been raised to an 18? Well there is no way that Black Swan demands an 18 certificate. Granted, the lesbian scene is one to raise a few eyebrows, but it’s not gratuitous and it’s nothing that most 15 or 16 year olds aren’t aware of or haven’t seen before. Sure, if you watch the film with your parents, it may lead to a little awkward shuffling or a well-timed tea break, but that says more about people’s attitudes rather than the suitability of the material.
What’s even more worrying than people’s prudish nature is that some have complained that the film should be rated 18 or that scene should be cut simply because it is of lesbian nature. To me this verges on homophobia, suggesting that same-sex relationships are taboo and are only suitable for those of a certain age. This is such an archaic attitude and I can only dread to think what those blinkered bigots would make of something like Brokeback Mountain or something altogether more risqué.
Off the back of the Black Swan complaints, the BBFC has announced that they have commissioned a major research project into audience’s attitudes to sexual violence in films. Whilst this would no doubt be very interesting reading, it needs to be pointed out that there is no sexual violence in Black Swan. There are scenes of a sexual nature and there is a level of violence, but the two a kept separate. This distinction needs to be fully understood and it’s dangerous to brandish such labels around.
The Lovely Bones and Beowulf have been past winners of the ‘most complained about film of the year’ award again because some thought the age rating was too low. Both films were given a 12A here in the UK, which means that anyone under the age of 12 must be accompanied by an adult. Admittedly, this makes the distinction between 12A and PG rather blurred and some parents may feel it’s fine to take their children, no matter what age, to a 12A film. However, this is most certainly not the case. Whilst I feel both The Lovely Bones and Beowulf feature very little that will mentally scar children, The Woman in Black is a different cauldron of frogs.
The Woman in Black was also granted a 12A rating by the BBFC and is the most complained about film of 2012 so far, and to be honest, it’s not hard to see why. At time of writing, the BBFC had received 120 complaints about the film, which makes Black Swan’s 40 complaints even more paltry in comparison.
Whatever your opinion of the film itself, it’s hard to argue that it would more than likely frighten a child. There’s nothing wrong with 12 or 13 year olds getting a bit of a spook, but when you consider someone could take a seven year old to see it, then you can see where the issues lie. And for all those saying it wasn’t scary anyway, it made me jump a fair few times and I’ve never experienced a cinema so on edge as during that film, so just imagine how a child would fare. Granted, you could question the parenting choices of taking a child to see a film such as The Woman in Black, but that’s a different issue.
The Woman in Black problem could have been solved very simply – do away with the 12A rating. The PG rating covered this age range adequately and then 12 certificates represented that slight step up in maturity. A little more thought into how a film is classified and the target audience should help eliminate a fair amount of issues.
Films Hanna, Sucker Punch and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – part 1 also attracted a number of complaints. A pattern is emerging. Many of the films mentioned in this article have featured prominent female roles, which suggests that it is people’s views of the portrayal of women in films that is the deeper rooted issue. That particular topic, however, is an absolute minefield and one that countless books could be written on, let alone a simple blog post.
With these and many other films, a change in the viewers’ attitude would be the best solution of all. If you watch a film with material you find offensive or disturbing, you have the option of walking out. If you know you are sensitive to certain things in films, then research a film before going to see it. Or you could simply adopt a ‘well I didn’t really like that part of the film’ view and move on. It’ll save everyone a lot of time and effort.
Words: Chris Thomson