Every four or five years, in order to keep in touch with public opinion, the BBFC does a public consultation over its guidelines. These public consultations have led to numerous adjustments over the years, some more significant than others. This time around, the majority of the guidelines were left completely intact, with a few minor changes in the upper categories and one big, newsworthy change.
This big change is probably the board’s approach to sexual violence. Under the old guidelines, depictions of sexual violence at the 12A/12 category were allowed, as long as they were “briefly and discreetly indicated, and its depiction must be justified by context.”
However, the new guidelines state that no actual depictions of sexual violence, no matter how discreet, are allowed at 12A. Sexual violence may still be implied, and sexual threat and abusive behavior are allowed as long as they are “brief and negatively presented.” This means that films such as Difret, The Duchess, Moulin Rouge!, The Kite Runner, and The World Unseen would no longer be accepted at the 12A/12 category.
At the 15 category, the language for the guidelines on sexual violence has been slightly changed, but basically says the same thing—while strong verbal references to sexual violence are acceptable, scenes of sexual violence must be discreet and lack detail. (We can only hope they actually follow this with the new guidelines and we don’t end up with another Red Sparrow.)
Some other changes:
- The old guidelines at 15 read “There may be strong verbal references to sexual behaviour, but the strongest references are unlikely to be acceptable unless justified by context. Works whose primary purpose is sexual arousal or stimulation are unlikely to be acceptable.” The new guidelines clarify that use of ‘pornographic language’ is unlikely to be acceptable, and now simply says that works with a primary purpose of arousal are “unacceptable” at this category. The biggest places these rules will likely hit are raunchy comedies and ecchi anime.
- Similarly, sexual nudity with strong detail at the 15 category has been changed from “unlikely to be acceptable” to acceptable if “brief or presented in a comic context.” The public consultation included research on the public’s response to brief displays of erect penises in Girls and Big Little Lies—the public accepted the former due to its comedy and briefness, while it was often completely missed in the latter. (I know a very specific group of basement-dwellers on Twitter who are not going to be happy about this.)
- For some reason, the examples of dangerous behavior that shouldn’t dwell on detail at 15 were changed from “hanging, suicide, and self-harming” to “suicide, self-harming and asphyxiation.” Is hanging BBFC-approved now? Someone resubmit Paranoia Agent!
And just for fun, here are the films that the BBFC saw a significant disagreement with in terms of their classification during their consultation:
- Wind River was considered more appropriate for an 18 by the public due to its depiction of a gang rape, rape theme, and strong images of self-harm.
- Into the Forest‘s rape scene was considered more appropriate for an 18 by the public. The BBFC justified the 15 in their insight in their long insight due to the scene’s lack of nudity and instead “focusing on her horrified and pained reactions“; however, the public seemed to think that the focus on the woman’s reactions made the scene stronger in impact and more “real.”
- The strong violence in Riot Club was felt to be more suitable at 18 by the public, largely because of a sense of power imbalance and violence against defenseless persons.
- Logan was split—some felt that the fantasy elements/superhero genre made the violence easily separated from reality and suitable at 15, while others felt the violence was more appropriate for 18 due to the fact that some of the most violent acts were performed by a young girl. Personally, I’m apart of the former who finds the violence justified and suitable on the upper end of 15.
- The BBFC stated that it was “widely felt” that 12 Cloverfield Lane was more suitable for a 15 then the 12A/12 classification, which is something BBFC nerds have been saying since it came out. The film had a sense of strong threat, including sexual threat, throughout that the public felt that, despite the lack of on-screen violence, was more suitable at 15.
- Some objected to It Follows at a 15 due to the combination of sex and gore, as well as the implication of a mother raping her son. In the words of one mother: “That is horrendous and should be banned. It’s almost like the mother is raping her son.” (Umm…that’s because that’s what was happening.)
- The graphic medical details and photographs in Louis Theroux: Transgender Kids were felt to be too strong for a 12. (Some may argue transphobia could play a role in the feeling of it being inappropriate for 12, but I think the public is squeamish about graphic medical stuff no matter who’s involved.)
- “No clear consensus” was made for My Life as a Courgette (known in the United States as My Life as a Zucchini), a film that fellow BBFC nerds also commented on being challenging for PG. Some felt the fact that the film’s animation reduced any serious impact it could have, and the sex references would fly over a child’s head. Others felt that the mature themes and borderline moderate sex references, including a reference to ‘willies exploding’, were more appropriate for a 12A/12 rating. (In the United States, the film received a PG-13 rating for these elements.)
- The public felt that the abduction theme and strong threat in Split were more appropriate for an 18 classification. I’m going to personally disagree with this one—it was definitely strong for the PG-13 rating it got in America, but I don’t think it exceeded the guidelines at 15. There were disturbing elements, but nothing that met the 18 criteria for “sustained focus on sadistic or sexual threat.”
- The mature themes in Lion were felt by the public as more suitable for a 12A/12 rather than a PG, something that yet again fellow BBFC nerds commented on after it came out. @emmabung is able to detail the kind of content that was challenging/unsuitable for PG in this film much better then I can.
- Sausage Party was felt to be challenging to classify, largely due to its 15-rated sense of humor that had a few 18-rated bits. The public also felt that some of the sexual content, including the orgy scene, required a better insight than “strong sex references.”
- The strong sex references in Bad Moms were felt by the public to be ‘uncomfortable’ at 15 and possibly providing new information for younger teenagers. (If I had to make an educated guess, it was likely the graphic discussion over pleasing a man and comparing his genitals to a “man clit.”) As such, some of these references would likely be considered 18-rated “pornographic language” under the new guidelines.
Before we go, I’ve gotta mention that new logo design/slogan. Snazzy!