British Board of Film Classification

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What Are You Complaining About Now?

Date 07/05/2010

Not everyone is happy or agrees with the classification decisions the BBFC makes. In 2009, the BBFC received over 400 complaints about the ratings it had given to films, DVDs and some computer games. Some people thought the category given was too low. Some people thought the category was too high. And in one or two cases, some people thought the category was both too high and too low. Some people believe there should be no censorship at all. Other believe that there is not enough censorship.

Broadly speaking, the majority of complaints the BBFC receives are from people who believe the classification given to a film or DVD is not high enough or appropriate for its audience. The reasons cited will vary enormously, depending on the film and its content. Coverage in the media will also excite complaints, often from people who have not seen the film in question.

The attention paid to Lars von Trier's challenging drama about grief, Antichrist, in some newspapers last year generated a number of complaints. However, none of these people had seen the film, and some expressed the wish never to see it. Indeed, some were confused as to the nature of the film, believing Antichrist to be a religious drama. There were no complaints from anyone from had seen the film.

The combination of a high-profile film and negative media coverage of our classification of it can result in unprecedented public response. The Dark Knight (rated 12A) in 2008 received just under 400 complaints eventually. An analysis of these complaints showed that less than 10% of those who complained about the film's unsuitability for children had actually accompanied children to screenings of the film. It was also clear that many had not seen the film but were responding to press stories about it. A further trend was noted that once the interest ceased, the complaints significantly declined though the film continued to be screened nationwide. Our initial decision to refuse to certificate the video game Manhunt 2 generated nearly 700 complaints, a response orchestrated largely by gaming websites and online forums.

Language, and the use of certain strong swear words, will often provoke a response - British audiences have always been peculiarly sensitive to bad language. Even language identified consistently by our research as either 'mild' or 'moderate' will generate complaints, especially in films with a significant appeal to children. The scheming Fairy Godmother's use of "bloody" twice in the U -rated Shrek 2 upset some parents, as did the phrase "Bugger it" in Nanny McPhee (also U). Some people with committed beliefs have voiced objections to use of religious oaths, calling for these to be cut from films or the work banned as blasphemous. There is also a greater sensitivity to the use of terms which are derogatory to minority groups. Sex and violence will inevitably elicit complaints. We also receive complaints that some horror films are too 'horrifying'! A number of people who complained about the film Orphan (rated 15) were equally unsettled that the murderous villain was, ostensibly, a young girl as they were by the violence or horror.

We do, on occasion, get complaints that the category awarded to a work is too high. This is often the case with eagerly awaited films or games. Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street was classified 18 for its strong bloody violence, especially gory throat slashings. Many fans of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton under the age of 18 complained about this decision which excluded them from seeing the film in the cinema. Likewise, teenage fans of the graphic novel on which Watchmen was based voiced their disappointment and, in some cases, anger, that we rated the film at the adults-only category. Many argued that they had read the book, so why they were not allowed to see the film? The 18 awarded to the Modern Warfare 2 game last year also caused dismay among many teenage fans of the game series. In the disgruntled parlance of teenagers they claimed the decision was "unfair" despite our clear published explanation for our decision. There were some requests to cut the game in order to secure a lower rating. There were also requests purportedly from parents to rate the game lower as the 18 decision was ruining the social lives of their teenage sons who had been forbidden from playing the game with their friends.

We also regularly receive complaints about classification decisions made years, sometimes decades earlier. Watership Down was rated U for film in 1978 and for video in 1987 reflecting our classification system and standards at those times. There were a few complaints from parents at the time who felt the film was too upsetting for very young children. The category has not changed since then, and we continue to receive one or two complaints about the film each year (more when a new edition of the DVD is released) despite the widespread familiarity with it over the past 30 years.

It is not possible to predict how anyone will react to certain images and sounds in films or in DVDs, and viewers can respond adversely in ways that we do not anticipate. In one instance, the sight of bikini-clad women in a cinema deodorant advert reminded a woman painfully of her recent mastectomy, while the mistreatment and subsequent rejection of a young girl's toy companions in a cartoon upset one viewer's adopted child because she thought this meant she was to be returned to foster care. We received a recent complaint about the trailer for the Ricky Gervais film, The Invention Of Lying, in which he berates fat people sat in the front row of the cinema eating sweets. The woman was mortified as she identified herself as overweight and was eating sweets at the time when the trailer was screening.

On occasion, the BBFC is subject to campaigns organised by certain groups who wish to make a point, or who are concerned by a particular classification decision. This often happens with films that deal with a religious subject.

In 1999, Dogma received nearly 3000 identical letters and postcards from religious groups calling for it to be banned, making it the most complained about decision in recent years. Recently, the BBFC has been the target of campaigns from lobby groups in Liverpool concerned about smoking in films.

Our BBFCinsight elicits some very positive public comment. Some people have voiced concerns that the advice provides too much information, while others moan that there isn't enough information.

We endeavour to reply to all correspondence we receive. If it is a complaint about a classification decision, this will be passed to one of the examiners who viewed the film. If it is a complaint about a point of classification policy, the email is forwarded onto the appropriate specialist at the BBFC. All complaints are kept on file with the work's other records, and monthly and annual summaries are produced and circulated to the relevant BBFC staff for information. An overview of the year's feedback is published in the Annual Report. However, it should be pointed out that we will not respond to offensive or abusive emails or letters. In a rare case, we had to report one correspondent to the police.

People will also complain about matters outside the function and responsibility of the BBFC, from noisy children disrupting screenings and the high price of soft drinks and popcorn in some cinema venues, to misleading trailers and how bad they thought a film was. The rise in 3D films has seen criticism of the quality of 3D glasses and that such films give some viewers headaches or motion sickness. We have received, on occasion, unusual complaints for which we have no answer. For example, one gentleman complained that the 'Bond babes' in Casino Royale  were not attractive enough and wanted our help to start a campaign to return Sean Connery to the role of Bond. We politely declined his invitation.

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