Canada Censorship News

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Reconsidering "The Hunger Games"

I have not seen The Hunger Games movie, nor have I read the book, so I can't comment fairly on the portrayed violence or thematic issues. I find the notion of children being ordered to kill each other for entertainment a little unsettling, but perhaps it's metaphorical or satirical. Even if it is, younger children may not understand that, and the imagery might be unsettling. The violence involving children has caused film classifiers to have some difficulty determining appropriate age ratings for this film.

The MPAA selected PG-13. This classification does not have an age restriction, but the only higher classification is Restricted, requiring Adult Accompaniment for anyone under eighteen. In Great Britain, the BBFC suggested the likely rating would be 15, based on a pre-release print. This rating does not allow anyone under age fifteen to view the film. The distributor requested advice on how to obtain a 12A rating, which would allow children twelve to fourteen to see the film, and children under twelve to see the film with an adult.The BBFC suggested some changes.
When the finished version of the film was submitted for formal classification, cuts had been made in four scenes of violence and in one scene showing details of injuries. These reductions were implemented by a mixture of visual cuts, visual darkenings and the digital removal of sight of blood. In addition to the reductions already made during the 'advice' process, the Board required further reductions in one scene following formal submission of the finished feature. (BBFC)
The BBFC reports that 7 seconds of the film were cut or modified, however it is not clear if the 7 seconds considers all of the changes, or the changes to the finished version. The BBFC site also includes extensive commentary about how the rating was determined, including this reflection:
Although the concept of young people being forced to fight one another is a potentially disturbing one, the futuristic and fantastical nature of the setting distances the sense of threat from reality and young teenagers are likely to understand that the film, like the novel, is a critique of violence and a critique of media manipulation, with which they will be familiar from reality TV. (BBFC)
Classifications in Canada ranged from Quebec's G, allowing anyone to view the film, to PG in Ontario and British Columbia, allowing anyone to view the film but noting that it may not be suitable for children, to 14A in Manitoba and Alberta, requiring adult accompaniment for children under fourteen. The film was released in Canada on March 23, but on May 1st Ontario changed to classification from PG to 14A.

Classification reconsiderations are not unusual, but typically the distributor is requesting a lower classification to maximize the potential audience. In this case, the request to reconsider came from several members of the public concerned about the violence in the film. Film classifications are usually determined by a one or two person panel, but for the reconsideration panel five board members, who had not previously seen the film, determined the classification.

Given the range of classifications for this film, neither the original PG rating nor the later 14A is inconsistent with the classification in other jurisdictions. Changing the classification more than a month after the release date may seem too late, but may have been a factor in the CHVRS classification of 14A. This is the classification that will be applied to the home video version, and it is based on an average of the provincial ratings (except Quebec).

Film classification boards are often publicly accused of being out of touch and too restrictive. The Ontario Board's unreported decision to reconsider the film based on public complaints that the classification was too low demonstrates that the public rely on the Board to set an appropriate rating, and that the Board can and does respond to public opinion.

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