Published: 30th November 2021

BBFC release research findings into classification of racism and discrimination in films and TV

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has commissioned new research into racism and discrimination in films and TV shows, asking people, including those who have been directly affected, their views into the classification of such scenes, in both modern and older content. 

Findings showed that people don't think that older films and TV shows necessarily need higher age ratings if they contain outdated behaviour or language,  but they want to be warned about potentially offensive words or portrayals.

People understand that some older films and TV shows are a ‘product of their time’, but it’s clear that attitudes have shifted over the years.

When it comes to a more current setting, the findings showed the ‘n word’ should not be classified lower than 12A/12 - unless there is very clear and strong educational value, for example, in a documentary with strong appeal or value to younger audiences. 

David Austin, Chief Executive of the BBFC, said: “We must always assess the context in which content appears, especially with regards to the factors that may support a higher classification or help defend a lower one. Violent and threatening behaviour, or use of particularly offensive language, will always aggravate an instance of discriminatory or racist behaviour. However, clear condemnation, sympathy with the victims, or a documentary or historical setting can all work to help frame the sequence and potentially give the content educational value for younger viewers.”

The research found that some people, particularly parents, believe there is value in showing children examples of racism and discrimination to ‘prepare’ them for the behaviour and attitudes they may experience or witness in real life. But others want to shield children from racism and discrimination for as long as possible. People, especially parents, therefore want content warnings so they can make informed decisions. 

People are empathetic towards others, recognising that even if they are not personally offended by a certain term or behaviour, they acknowledge others may be - again highlighting the need for content warnings on films and TV shows. 

Lord Kamlesh Patel, Vice President of the BBFC, said: “Movements dedicated to raising awareness and combatting discrimination and racism have gained important traction in the last two years. In response, we wanted to see how this has impacted the views of people in the UK, and particularly to hear from and listen to those who have been directly impacted by discrimination and racism as their voices are important. We recognise that our role isn't just about protecting children from harmful content, it's about helping parents who might want to use depictions of discrimination and racism as a potential teaching moment.”

Maurice Wheeler, Co-Founder & CEO of We Are Family, said: “This was such a delightfully insightful project to be involved in.  The structure and longitudinal nature of the research methodologies meant we could establish trusting and open relationships with our respondents.  Over the 2 week long programme, this relationship enabled us to uncover much richer and more sincere responses than any other methodology.  It is very common on a topic like this for participants to ‘clam up’ and not want to share their true thoughts, however on this project the respondents became partners, with a proactive desire to ensure their voices were heard.”

Changes the BBFC are making off the back of this research:

  • adopting an even stricter position on the classification of the ‘n-word’ at the junior categories

  • placing significant emphasis on the educational value of documentary contexts, which might result in a documentary getting a lower age rating 

  • being particularly mindful of the intent within the scene when classifying older films and TV shows

  • continuing to consider directed, aggressive or violent depictions of discrimination, or the likelihood of children copying any form of racism, including racist language, as key factors which might raise an age rating

  • continuing to use ratings info to signal when discriminatory language or behaviour is contained in a film or TV show

  • Using the phrase ‘an actor in make-up portraying a different ethnicity’ when describing assumed racial identities

Download the full report​​​​​​​

About the research:

  • 70 participants took part in online research sessions, and were asked to watch clips and answer questions about them. 

  • 20 respondents were asked to participate in interviews to dig deeper into specific issues. 

  • When defining the sample we intentionally over-represented a number of minority groups (e.g. Black) in order to understand the perception/impact of discriminatory content on those most directly affected by it.

  • Over 70% of the final sample identify as among protected characteristic groups, with some participants being part of more than one group

  • We Are Family also recruited a nationally representative group; but the overall sample does not reflect the demographic make-up of the UK population overall. During analysis this has been taken into account, and we have tried to identify and pull out insight that best reflects the attitudes of the majority, and as such is reflective of the BBFC’s commitment to represent and reflect the UK population.

About We are Family 

We Are Family is the world’s biggest and most experienced full-service agency group that specialises in children, young people and their families.

We are the global experts in children, young people and family marketing, working with clients at all stages of the campaign process. From initial consumer research and inspiring creative ideation through to the execution and delivery; from regional through to global executions, we offer a bespoke, reliable and enjoyable working experience for every client.

We are innovators with a broad discipline expertise, understanding the market like no other, and in doing so, we work with, and are trusted by, some of the world’s biggest family brands. 

Our research and insights team are some of the most experienced and respected qualitative and quantitative researchers within the family audience, delivering exceptional insight into kids, Gen Z and families with global reach and international and regional relevance.

We are a truly international agency group with a breadth and depth of in-house talent; an unrivalled network of creatives, marketing experts and research specialists across the globe, operating in 15 territories across 22 countries and counting; from Moscow and Madrid to Milan and Melbourne. We develop, execute and deliver a broad range of diverse and dynamic stories with our trademark quality and expertise.