On the surface, Australia and New Zealand’s Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) may seem to be very similar. They formerly shared the same name, before the OFLC was dissolved in Australia. (They now go by the Australian Classification Board, or ACB.)
They share the same unrestricted classifications, and New Zealand even allows Australia’s classifications to be used on titles at the unrestricted categories as long as they haven’t received a restrictive rating such as 15 or 18 from the BBFC. (There’s a separate organization, the Film and Video Labeling Body, or FVLB, which handles cross-rating and unrestricted titles. It’s a bit complicated to explain in great detail in a blog post where it isn’t the main subject.)
However, despite their closeness, the two boards can disagree with one another, and have their own unique issues that one is more concerned about then the other. To put it simply, they’re brothers, not identical twins. Here are ten noteworthy decisions in which Australia and New Zealand have been split when it comes to classification.
13 Reasons Why
13 Reasons Why is perhaps the most controversial title Netflix has ever put out. Based on a young adult novel, the series was immediately attacked for seemingly glamorizing suicide to a younger audience, as well as increasing the graphicness of some scenes in the book. (The main girl, Hannah, takes pills to kill herself in the novel, while in the Netflix series we get a long, drawn-out scene of her slitting her wrists in the bathtub.)
The Australian Classification Board has provided Netflix with a self-rating tool that allows them to generate Australian ratings based on a questionnaire. As such, the original classification of season 1 of the series was MA15+ for “Strong Sex Scenes, Strong Violence”. (For some reason, the auto-rating tool spits out classifications with Capitalization Like This.)
In their audit of the auto-rating tool, the Australian Classification Board changed the consumer advice to read “Strong suicide themes and sexual violence”, which is a much more appropriate representation of the content contained in the series. However, some have expressed concern over the series carrying an MA15+ rating, which still allows for a teenage audience to view it without supervision.
New Zealand’s OFLC, viewing both the positives and negatives of the show’s content, decided to create an entirely new classification for it – RP18, meaning viewers under 18 need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian. They also provided an incredibly detailed advice note for the series: “Series deals with suicide, bullying and depression. Episodes may contain violence, sexual material, drug use, and frequent offensive language. Some episodes contain graphic depictions of suicide and rape.”
A Christmas Carol (2009)
This Disney animated adaptation of the classic story was initially released in New Zealand with a cross-rating from Australia of PG with advice reading “some scenes may scare very young children.”
The OFLC received several parental complaints, including one from a member of the public who submitted it to the Chief Censor (members of the public are allowed to pay a small fee and submit works for classification). The OFLC determined that it was “likely to shock and frighten younger viewers but […] unlikely to have long-term negative effects”, and awarded it an M rating for “Content that may disturb.”
Over in Australia, the classification of the first volume of the gentle slice-of-life anime series Azumanga Daioh caused a bit of a stir among Australian anime fans. It received an MA15+ rating for “Adult theme” – the distributor, as well as those who had already seen the series, were expecting no more than a PG. Australia’s classification board took objection to a recurring character, Mr. Kimura, who inappropriately expresses his fondness for high school girls.
When the series was rated in New Zealand, this same volume received an M for “Sexual themes” – keeping the series unrestricted but also advising parents of sexual subject matter – in this case, the light-hearted treatment of ephebophilia (perhaps hebephilia, considering Chiyo-chan) – that may be unsuitable for younger viewers. This also puts New Zealand’s classification more in line with the 12 rating that the series received by the BBFC.
Don’t Breathe is an American horror/thriller film about a group of friends who get trapped inside the house of a blind man they’re robbing. The film contains numerous scenes of strong violence and an intense atmosphere throughout, leading to the MA15+ rating in Australia for “Strong themes, violence and coarse language”.
In New Zealand, however, the OFLC was considerably more concerned about the portrayals of attempted sexual violence in the film. Much like the BBFC, the OFLC has found an increase in concern from the New Zealand public on sexual violence in recent years, and have adjusted their classification focuses accordingly. As such, the film received an R18 rating for “Violence, sexual violence & offensive language.”
Sony Pictures submitted an appeal, hoping for a more typical R16 rating for horror films that have been rated R in the United States. However, the R18 rating was upheld on appeal, as the OFLC described the sexual violence as “cruel”, “gratuitous”, and “shocking.” (That may sound like they were trashing the film, but they described in the same document as a “taut, suspenseful, and well-made horror/thriller.”)
Goldeneye 007 is a first-person shooter game based on the James Bond game GoldenEye. Initially released in 1997 for the Nintendo 64, it was remade for the Nintendo Wii and DS in 2010 (it was later again “remastered” for other consoles). The Nintendo Wii version of the remake is the version we’re going to be discussing here.
Over in Australia, the Wii version of the remake received an M rating for “Violence, sexual references and coarse language”. However, because the game received a 16 rating from PEGI, it was submitted to the New Zealand OFLC, where it received an R16 rating for “Violence”.
I actually emailed the OFLC about this decision a few years ago. I had played this remake of Goldeneye a lot with my family when I was younger, including with my younger sister, whose age would have been in the single digits at the time. Sure, there was violence, but it was all very quick and never graphic. You got shot by someone else and then got frustrated you were shot, not scared or surprised by the visuals. There was even a paintball mode for a completely non-lethal experience!
In response, the OFLC sent me their whole “summary of reasons for decision” for Goldeneye 007, in which they stated “Constant exposure to the game’s killings of animated human beings, in which the player is an active participant, has potential in younger players to lead to a desensitization in general towards violent behavior in real life.”
This is in line with their restricted classifications of other shooters such as Halo (which was also rated M in Australia), but seems a bit too strict for me. I dunno, my sister and I turned out…okay.
High School DxD
We’ve discussed High School DxD on here before. It’s an anime action series with a bit of raunch to it. Okay, a lot of raunch to it. And considering the main cast consisted of teenagers, anime fans in different parts of the world have feared cuts to their release of the series.
However, the series has actually survived largely unscathed in most countries. The series has received MA15+ and 15 ratings in Australia and the UK, 16 in Germany, etc. Most countries didn’t take notable objection to the portrayal of high school students in High School DxD, likely because most of the girls are over the age of 16, it’s animated, and no actual sexual acts are graphically portrayed.
Most countries. In New Zealand, the first season was classified as objectionable, with the OFLC basing their decision on the possibility that the series would “encourage and legitimize the pursuit of young persons as viable adult sexual partners.” The Australian distributor, Madman Entertainment, has never bothered to submit the other seasons to the OFLC, but they’d likely receive the same decision.
Megan is Missing
Megan is Missing is a low-budget “psychological horror” film that showcases the dangers of the Internet in the most extreme worst-case scenario. Two young teenage girls begin talking to a boy online, and (spoiler alert!) both of them end up kidnapped and dead.
The film contains some extreme visuals meant to disturb, such as the underwear-clad and impaled corpse of one of the girls and an extended rape scene involving the other.
While the film is available on DVD in the United States and Canada, it has not been rated by the MPAA, and none of the Canadian provinces have rated it. This makes Australia and New Zealand the only territories that have officially rated the film.
In Australia, it received an MA15+ rating for “Strong themes, violence, sexual violence, and sexual references”. According to the Australian Classification Board’s 2011 annual report, the film received three complaints – two of them thought the film should have had an R18+ rating, while the other thought the consumer advice needed to be more detailed/clear on the impact of the film.
Over in New Zealand, the film was classified as objectionable. Explaining their reasoning, the OFLC stated the film was “strongly prurient” and sexualized the lives of its two main characters to a “highly exploitative degree.”
If I had to guess, the two scenes that most contributed to them banning the film are the rape scene (which they do mention in their document about the film) and the scene in which Megan describes in great detail performing oral sex on a camp counselor when she was ten years old. These scenes are more fitting of an exploitation film rather than one trying to make teenagers aware of Internet safety. As such, I understand the OFLC classifying it as objectionable.
We discussed Naughty Bear previously while talking about PEGI, but they weren’t the only rating board to turn a blind eye to teddy bear torture. The Australian Classification Board rated Naughty Bear as M for “Mature themes and violence”. Considering the strong revenge theme/revenge-motivated violence as “thrill kills”, this seems quite lenient, especially considering Australia’s classification board refused to classify Postal 2 in which the sadism is optional and presented in a neutral fashion by the game.
Over in New Zealand, the game was initially cross-rated as M but was submitted by the Inspectors of Publications for official review/classification. After viewing the game for themselves, the OFLC decided to classify it as R13 for “Violence”, recognizing the sadism but also the low impact of the visuals themselves.
“Children will be especially disturbed by the depiction of a familiar childhood toy engaged in frequent acts of violence against other toys. However, teenagers and adults possess the maturity to recognize the game’s contrived representations of violence and the satirical nature of the game.”
Pornography in general
The rules on pornography in Australia are quite strict. At the R18+ rating, sexual activity may only be ‘realistically simulated’ (though much like the BBFC’s policy, some artsy real sex has appeared at the R18+ category). As such, only softcore pornography is commonly available. (One distributor, Siren Visual, found a loophole in the ‘realistically simulated’ rule and released some hentai. While uncensored penetration and the like managed to make it through, they often had to be heavily pre-cut for factors and themes such as blood, urine, underage-looking characters, etc.)
Australia has an X18+ rating especially for “adult sex films” – however, these films are banned from sale in every part of Australia except for the Australian Capital and Northern Territory. Also, the guidelines prohibit any fetish material, ‘exploitative’ language, or any depiction of violence, even if completely disassociated from sex. (For example, one fantasy-based porno was refused classification for a scene in which a man is simply implied to hit a guard over the head in order to free a woman from a prison cell.)
New Zealand’s OFLC is much more open to pornography by comparison. Pornographic titles, including ‘hardcore’ and fetish titles, are normally assigned an R18 rating with display restrictions, meaning they must be sold in specific adult sections of shops away from children.
The only concerns the OFLC has when it comes to pornography are those that they’re concerned about with all films – sexual exploitation of young people, exploitative portrayals of sexual violence, etc. (Back to the hentai from earlier – some of the ones that passed R18+ from the Australian Classification Board, such as Cool Devices and RXXX: Prescription for Pain, were classified objectionable in New Zealand for depictions of incest and “promotion of sexual violence as an acceptable and arousing activity.”)’
The Sharknado franchise is famous for its ridiculous, over-the-top scenario – the world suddenly being hit by shark tornadoes. As such, the violence/gore, while occasionally grisly, is clearly fantastical and comic in nature.
Over in Australia, every one of the films was rated MA15+ for “Strong violence”. By comparison, New Zealand’s OFLC rated the first, fifth, and sixth films as M and 2-4 as R13. They published a “snapshot” of the final film’s M rating, suggesting that they view the violence in context much more lightly than the Australian Classification Board.
“There are occasional scenes of violence and some images that may frighten very young children (such as exaggerated and unrealistic loss of limbs), but the artificial nature of its presentation substantially reduces the overall impact.”