This week is Banned Books Week, where librarians across the country work to bring awareness about censorship to all patrons, both external (whom we normally think of as our patrons) and internal (our staff and colleagues, as well as our city and school employees). The ALA has released the top 10 most frequently challenged books 2014, which include titles such as The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and Drama by Raina Telgemeier.
Another medium that’s often looked over during this week of awareness of censorship is Film. In the 1930’s America started the Motion Picture Production Code after a number of films were released that shocked moviegoers with their daring and scandalous content. Based in part on religious principles, a lot of scholars know it as the Hays Code, named after Will Hays, who was president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association. Together, Hays and studio heads at MGM, Fox, and Paramount created the Don’ts and Be Carefuls in 1927.
In 1934, an amendment was passed that all films as of July 1, 1934 must be certified as having passed the code, or be approved by the Production Code Administration. The PCA wasn’t a government agency- it was run and enforced by Hollywood actually to encourage the government to look the other way. The problem was, it also was strictly enforcing certain values on others. Imagine Casablanca with more than hints of a love affair? Movies featuring Nazis or negative images of Germany were not allowed in certain times because the PCA wouldn’t allow it, for fear of angering the Germans and bringing negative attention to America.
The code and enforcement began to weaken in Hollywood in the 1950’s because of a huge factor in American culture: television. While TV had an even more restrictive code, the viewers didn’t have to leave their houses to watch it, and everyone would crowd into a house that had a set. Movies needed to become an event again, to become something special once more. It didn’t help that movies from overseas were challenging the code, or that movies that didn’t gain approval were released anyway and were box office hits, like Some Like it Hot with Marilyn Monroe.
In the 1960’s enforcement devolved into complete chaos, and the MPAA overhauled the industry’s policies completely. In 1968, they released the beginnings of the MPAA rating system that we are familiar with today. Changes were made in the system, most notably adding in a PG-13 rating in 1984 due to the horror elements in Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and changing X to NC-17 to differentiate those movies from the clearly adult offerings in sex stores.
Even today there is still censorship at work, and it’s not just the difference between the “theatrical version” and the “director’s cut” or the “uncut versions”. Curious about what movies have been censored or challenged, either by the MPAA/PCA or at theaters? Here are a few:
- All Quiet on the Western Front
- Brokeback Mountain
- Battle Royale
- The Great Dictator
- Basic Instinct
- Monty Python’s Life of Bryan
- A Streetcar Named Desire
- The Evil Dead
- A Clockwork Orange
- The Exorcist