When is a religious profanity no longer “profane”?
Sixty years ago, religious profanities typically were forbidden in Hollywood movies, as the Protestant and Catholic film offices held sway on issues of acceptability in the “Golden Age” of film.
Today, however, in one Western nation, such profanities fail to register even the slightest concern with the primary movie-rating agency, which rarely mentions such expletives in its warning nor takes them into account when determining ratings.
The British Board of Film Classifications, or BBFC, rates movies publicly screened in the United Kingdom and has been doing so since 1912 (when its name was the British Board of Film Censors). The nonprofit, non-governmental organization, which is funded through fees charged to production companies, offers “age-appropriate classifications” meant to be helpful to British parents.
While on-screen swearing typically causes a film to receive a more mature rating, the BBFC has backed away from considering profanities as potentially “offensive” to British moviegoers, even those as young as 4.
In a recent response to a WND reader, a representative of the BBFC, whose tagline is “Age ratings you trust,” explained the policy: “While we recognize that such terms [profanities] may be offensive to those who hold religious beliefs, our public consultation has found that most respondents found these terms acceptable at ‘U’ [the rating described as ‘suitable for all’].”
The BBFC explains its downplaying of religious expletives by referring to the organization’s most recent “Classification Guidelines,” which are based on “an extensive public consultation process which is repeated regularly.”
Explained Catherine Anderson, head of communications for the BBFC: “More than 10,000 members of the public from across the U.K. took part in the most recent Guidelines consultation in 2013.”
The Guidelines state, “A U film should be suitable for audiences aged 4 years and over, although it is impossible to predict what might upset any particular child. U films should be set within a positive framework and should offer reassuring counterbalances to any violence, threat or horror.”
Concern arose over the BBFC evaluation of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” It included this language warning: “There is occasional use of mild bad language, including ‘son of a bi—h,’ ‘s–t’ and ‘p—s.'”
There was no mention, however, of religious profanities in the film, like those cited in the MovieGuide review. Based in Hollywood, MovieGuide reviews films from a Christian perspective. Its analysis of “Batman v. Superman” warned of “five strong profanities (using GD or Jesus) and two light profanities.” While giving the film four stars for “Quality,” MovieGuide labeled the latest Batman film “-2, Extreme Caution” for “Content.”
The BBFC rated the Batman film 12A, for “moderate violence and threat.” In the U.S., it is rated PG-13.
Since the BBFC considers violations of the Third Commandment acceptable for a U rating, it chose “to highlight the stronger language” in “Batman v. Superman” in its warning to the public, explained a member of the BBFC Feedback Team.
Anderson stressed the difference between public sensibilities in the United Kingdom and those in the United States.
“The BBFC classifies language to reflect the expectations of the U.K. public,” she told WND. “We do not classify for American audiences who may have different expectations.”
“Captain America: Civil War” opens next weekend in the U.S. The “BBFCInsight” content review for the superhero movie does include a reference to a profanity, adding it to the end of a string of terms.
States the analysis, “There is some mild bad language (‘son of a b–ch’, ‘s–t’, ‘p—ed’, ‘a–‘, ‘hell’, ‘g-dd–n’).
The board’s content reviews use the phrases “very strong language,” “strong language” and “mild bad language” to describe words used in films. The F-word is considered “strong language,” whereas terms such as “s–t” and “p–s” are sometimes mentioned as “milder terms.”
MovieGuide founder Ted Baehr has followed the BBFC for decades. He told WND the organization “is much more anti-Christian than the nation at large.”
Added Baehr: “The British Board of Film Classifications has often established itself as a pseudo elitist body that ignores the reality of families and the human condition. At least, the BBFC should consist mainly of mothers with children. Better still, as I argued before the U.K. Parliament years ago, they need to establish standards that prevent the sociological, psychological and religious dangers of movies and entertainment that destroy susceptible youth, as many of the Oxford studies show.”
Ironically, the BBFC was established, by statute, in the early 20th century after negative reaction to the film “From the Manger to the Cross,” about the life of Jesus. At the time, the Daily Mail newspaper expressed outrage about the willingness of American film producers to profit by making a film about the Jesus Christ, rhetorically asking, “Is nothing sacred to the filmmaker?”