Black Swan presented the BBFC with a whole range of classification issues when it was submitted for an advice viewing in 2010. The story is about Nina - a dedicated ballerina who is quietly desperate for the part of the Swan Queen in her company's up-coming re-imagining of Swan Lake. When she bites the Artistic Director of the company in response to his advances, he sees in her the fire that is necessary to also play the role of the Black Swan. But when Nina is befriended by the company newcomer - and natural candidate for the Black Swan - Lilly, she becomes involved in increasingly rebellious, sexual and aggressive behaviour. As opening night approaches, Nina finds her inner Black Swan is out of control and her grasp on reality increasingly fragile.
In terms of the issue of the self-harm seen in the film, BBFC Guidelines at 15 note ‘Dangerous behaviour (for example, ... self-harming) should not dwell on detail which could be copied’. Such scenes in Black Swan were judged sufficiently aversive in nature and therefore unlikely to encourage copying or promotion of such behaviour. The subject of bulimia was so ambiguously treated in the film as to be covered by the 15 rating. Critically, such activities are not shown to relieve or comfort Nina, but only to exacerbate her problems and state of mind.
The issue of drug misuse also occurs in Black Swan. In a bar, Nina is encouraged by Lily to drink a spiked drink in order to relax. Nina takes the drink fully aware that it has been drugged. She is then shown initially enjoying herself, but gradually becomes disorientated and loses control of her actions. Guidelines at 15 state that ‘Drug taking may be shown but the film as a whole must not promote or encourage drug misuse’. It was judged that Black Swan, both in this scene and overall, did not promote or encourage drug taking. The impression given in the film is that drug-taking does not always lead to a pleasurable experience. The scene has a precautionary aspect and could act as a valuable warning to the 15 -17 year old age group to not take risks, and to always be vigilant. It was also recognised that the 15 -17 age group would be increasingly familiar with the issue of spiked drinks following recent ad campaigns and the subject's appearance in TV programmes such as Hollyoaks.
The stand out classification issue in Black Swan is that of sex. There are several 'sex' scenes in the film. BBFC Guidelines at 15 note that ‘Sexual activity may be portrayed without strong detail’. During a rehearsal, Nina's (clothed) breasts and crotch are groped. Nina is instructed to 'touch herself' to connect with her sexuality. She masturbates briefly in the bath; there is no nudity and the scene is played off her facial reactions. Another attempt to masturbate is longer and stronger in detail - again with no nudity - but is abruptly interrupted when Nina discovers her mother asleep in a chair beside her bed.
These sequences were considered to lack the ‘strong detail’ to take them beyond 15 and the issue of masturbation would not be unfamiliar to most 15 year olds. However, one scene in particular took Black Swan right to the 15 / 18 classification border: Nina and Lily return home late after a drunken evening out. In defiance of her mother, Nina invites Lily to stay the night. They both embrace passionately and remove each other's clothing. Lily later performs cunnilingus on Nina. It was recognised that the scene was relatively extended and carried an erotic charge. However, the sexual activity is carefully framed and visually discreet; it lacks aggravating strong detail such as genital nudity, close-ups or sustained focus on the nudity or the sexual mechanics and is played off facial reactions. It was also felt that the tone is sensuous rather than salacious or pornographic. The narrative context within which the scene occurs was judged to be an important mitigating factor. Firstly, it demonstrated Nina's emerging personal assertion and awakening sexuality and secondly, her increasing loss of grip on reality. It later transpires that Nina has imagined the entire event. On balance, it was judged that this sex scene could be contained at 15 within Guidelines.
There was no concern about the sex being 'lesbian' at 15, as the BBFC applies its criteria to the same standards regardless of sexual orientation. However, it was recognised that this would be an aggravating element for some viewers.
The BBFCinsight for Black Swan notes that it ‘Contains strong sex, strong language and bloody images’. The expanded version gives further information on these issues.
Black Swan was passed at the same category for its DVD release, and selected for the 2011 National Schools Film Week.