Censorship: Friend or Foe


The technology that we’ve examined this semester that has intrigued me the most is censorship. I find the tremendous impact it has in the film industry very interesting, especially in how it has evolved over the years, and still controls what audiences can view today. In our course, we watched a lot of films with varying degrees of censorship. Silent films had practically no censorship, but when films started being made with sound, censorship became necessary. “Silent smut had been bad. Vocal smut cried to the censors for vengeance.” – Father Daniel A. Lord

The Code

In 1934, the Motion Picture Production Code was created as a tentative agreement between the U.S. government and the Motion Picture Association of America. The Code’s goal was to set moral guidelines that films had to follow. The Code included specific things that could not appear in any films such as: crimes against the law, sex, vulgarity, obscenity, profanity, costumes, nudity, dances, ridicule of religion, ridicule of nations, indecent titles, etc. Many members of the MPAA didn’t take the code seriously when it was first made. The film Merrily We Go To Hell (1932) was made during the Pre-Code Era when the Code wasn’t being heavily enforced. This movie openly breaks the code and promotes themes of alcoholism and adultery. The Girl From Missouri (1934) was made near the beginning of the code and although it had many sexual innuendos and sexual themes throughout the movie, it stayed clear from any obvious immoral themes. Bringing Up Baby (1938) which was made after the Code started to be taken more seriously also had some sexual innuendos, but it was a mainly light-hearted and comical movie that stayed within the Code’s guidelines.

Censorship Today

In 1968, the Production Code was replaced by today’s current rating system. These ratings are useful as guidelines for parents to get a sense of a movie contains so that they can make the decision of allowing their children to see it. Censorship is still a tool used today by agencies to control what audiences can view. China, for example, has strict rules for what can be shown to their audiences. Therefore, Hollywood self-censors their movies in order for them to be shown in China. Marvel’s Deadpool, which is rated R, was decidedly too graphically violent that no changes could be made to it to have it acceptable to China’s censors which prevent violent and provocative content. Marvel’s Logan, however, was able to have a few scenes removed to be deemed appropriate. China’s censors also prevent films from portraying China in a negative light or their enemies as heroes. China is such an important movie market, and they only accept around 34 foreign films each year, therefore self-censoring is in Hollywood’s best interest to guarantee access to China’s audiences. Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame made about $650 million domestically and around $600 million in China. The sales in China were essential to it beating Avatar as the highest grossing film in history. Hollywood’s self-censorship allowed it to accomplish this feat.

Avenger’s Endgame Poster

Censorship has evolved over the years and become a tool agencies use to expand the audiences of their movies. When it was first created, members of the film industry hated how constraining it was and didn’t want to adhere to any form of censorship. However, censorship is used today by companies to bring their films to new and specific audiences. Censorship has had such a big impact on the film industry and I believe it will continue to have one.

Works Cited

Bisset, Jennifer. “Marvel Is Censoring Films for China, and You Probably Didn’t Even Notice.” CNET, 1 Nov. 2019, www.cnet.com/features/marvel-is-censoring-films-for-china-and-you-probably-didnt-even-notice/.

Davis, Rebecca. “China Box Office: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Breaks a Host of Records.” Variety, 29 Apr. 2019, variety.com/2019/film/news/china-box-office-avengers-endgame-record-opening-1203199993/.

“Motion Picture Association of America Film Rating System.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 8 Nov. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_Picture_Association_of_America_film_rating_system#Replacement_of_the_Hays_Code.

“Motion Picture Production Code.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Nov. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_Picture_Production_Code#Pre-code:_%22Don’ts%22_and_%22Be_Carefuls%22,_as_proposed_in_1927.

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