Movie regulations in American and British movie industry – Film Essay
Cinema has been seen as a way of free artistic expression since its invention. Film makers assumed that they could allow themselves more than in, for instance, in theatres- they assumed that if the scenes were not acted live before the audience, they could be more daring. Un- or fortunately, the public had a different opinion on the subject. Although developed independantly,
ways to fight the obscenity and immorality on both side of the ocean(UK&USA) were relatively similar.
In United States. Hollywood soon became infamous for many scandals and began to be seen as a ‘rotten’ city. Afraid of obscenity in movies, over 100 cities established local censorship laws. To improve the image of the Hollywood, Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association was founded in 1922. It was supposed to introduce a set of rules that would prevent the immorality in movies. The Association was led by Will H. Hays, who came up with the so called Production Code, better known as the Hays code. In the beginnig, he tried to persuade producers to avoid immorality, but he rarely succeeded. Matters gor even worse when talking movies appeared. Hays’s ‘Don’ts’ and ‘Be carefuls’ were officialy published in 1930. I think it would be hard to find a worse period to introduce it as the Great Crisis forced producers to do everything to attract people to cinemas. Constant complaints made Motion Picture Association of America to take further steps and in 1934 Production Code Administration was created. From then, no movie could be distributed without getting a certificate from it; if the movie was released, PCA could fine theatres where it was shown with up to 25 000$ fine. It could also demand script changes.
Although it may be surprising, Britain founded its own regulatory body earlier than Hollywood. As in later in States, British Board of Film Censors was created by film industry to control and prevent immorality in movies. Unlike in American case, local authorities kept the right to object the Board’s opinion, but since 1920 such thing very rarely happened. At that time, both, American and British standards were very similar- sex, nudity, provocative dancing, drug use, venereal disease, childbirth, ridiculing religion were prohibited. In other words, everything that could possibly offend anyone was prohibited to be shown in films. There were some differences, of course, as both countries varied in terms of ‘sensitive’ issues. In USA these were mainly white/black people issues.Despite the fact that these examples are dealing with two completely different spheres of life, they all come from the same source. Both black-white issues and the concept of British Empire were very touchy subjects and presenting them in movie in an inappropriate way could arouse arguments and disturb the social balance. Nowadays it is considered rather as a way to preserve stereotypes and stop possible criticiscm of film makers.
Therefore, Hollywood could not produce films which showed ‘white slavery’, ‘miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races)’ (as in many states such relationships were simply forbidden, it would be presenting a crime.)
As United Kingdom was then still a colonial power, BBFC had to protect its image, so in the regulations from 1916 we can read that ‘scenes holding up the King’s uniform to contempt and ridicule’ and “subjects dealing with India, in which British Officers are seen in an odious light, and otherwise attempting to suggest the disloyalty of Native States or bringing into disrepute the British prestige in the Empire.’ were not allowed to be shown in movies.
Besides morally undesired content both regulations also covered different fields. For instance, Hays code listed and explained quite specifically what ‘a good movie is’: in short- an entertainment of great moral importance, it is an art that ‘enters intimately into the lives of human beings’; movies also have ‘special moral obligations’ , that’s why ‘no picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it.’ We can see here a great care about Americans’ consience and morality, an element that is very common in USA’s public life from its beginning.
In UK, on the other hand, not only was the moral side covered, but also certain elements that were not seen as typical neither were wanted from a good citizen of the state. Therefore no ‘References to controversial politics’, ‘ Scenes and incidents calculated to afford information to the enemy’ or ‘Incidents having a tendency to disparage our Allies’ were allowed. Political issues were very briefly covered in the Hays code, probably due to the fact that American entertainment was always centered on moral provocation and general respect for the state institutions seemed natural, whereas in Great Britain the idea of ridiculing and criticising the government in entertainment had a long tradition.
What’s significant, the british regulations would change and become relatively flexible and more genral, though BBFC would still cut films whereas Hollywood would stick to Hays code, even just formally. Faced with social changes and development of TV producers started to dare for more again. MPPA’s(which replaced Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association) response to thatwas makin the rules even stricter in 1952. The problem occured when in 1952 thanks to the fact that the First Amendment started to apply to movies as well, thus given producers the free speech right. Though practically useless, the Production Code lasted til 1968, when it was finally replaced by rating system.
At the same time BBFC, to prevent losing practical control over movie release, as it happened in States, introduced a rating system, just like it happened in many other countries. rating system allowed to release a movie that didn’t meet all the strict rules, but to supply it with a kind of warning.
Because of the fact that movie industry was already back then one of the most internationalized branches of culture, since introducing the rating system there were no major differences in movie regulations between UK and America til now. The only further changes will probably make even more similar, first of all to save problems the movie producers.