Films with sex attacks face automatic 18 rating
Guidelines set to be tightened after MeToo actresses tell of industry abuse
Media and Technology Reporter UNDER- 18s could be barred from watching films at the cinema featuring sexual violence following widespread concern that current age ratings are sometimes misjudged. Women’s groups have welcomed news that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is considering the appropriateness of showing rape scenes to those who have not reached adulthood. For years, some audiences have been horrified by the graphic content they have witnessed in films with 15 ratings. But following a public consultation, with scores of viewers offering their opinions on the system, the BBFC said it may place films featuring sexual violence in an over-18 category. If the decision were made, each film would then be looked at on an individual basis.
This year, when public panel members were invited to watch the movies In Between, Wind River and Don’t Breathe – all classed as suitable for those aged 15 and over – many said the sexual violence portrayed meant they should be rated 18 instead. Wind River, starring US actress Elizabeth Olsen, shows the rape of a woman. Palestinian director Maysaloun Hamoud received a huge backlash in her homeland for In Between, which features drugs and lesbianism. Horror movie Don’t Breathe contains scenes of a woman held captive in a basement.
The BBFC’s rethink comes after the #MeToo movement swept the world, with celebrities speaking out about how they have been subjected to inappropriate or sexually abusive behaviour. British actress Keira Knightley, 33, earlier this year told of how the female characters ‘nearly always get raped’ in films ‘set in the modern day’.
She said: ‘I always find something distasteful in the way women are portrayed [ in films set in the present], whereas I’ve always found very inspiring characters offered to me in historical pieces.
‘I’m suddenly being sent scripts with present-day women who aren’t raped in the first five pages and aren’t simply there to be the loving girlfriend or wife.’
Earlier this week, the BBFC’s chief executive David Austin told an NSPCC conference that the body would reconsider ratings if its continuing research showed viewers were concerned about how sexual violence was classified.
He added: ‘ We have 92 per cent approval ratings [for classification decisions] and the reason for that is that we consult the public.’
Yesterday campaign group End Violence Against Women Coalition welcomed the news. Co- director Rachel Krys said: ‘It is good the BBFC is thinking hard about how rape and sexual violence is depicted and the messages which are being sent to young people. If we can avoid young people being exposed to films which normalise or trivialise sexual violence and victimblaming, that will help when we are trying to talk to them about healthy sexual relationships.
‘We shouldn’t shield young people from the realities of the world. But film-makers do have a responsibility to ensure that content doesn’t normalise violence and misogyny by sending a message that rape and sexual violence isn’t extremely harmful or that victims are to blame.’
A similar study five years ago saw ratings tightened when scenes portrayed sadistic sex and sexual violence, such as when it appeared that victims enjoyed rape. Mr Austin said the latest research was targeted at the 15 rating.
A BBFC source revealed: ‘A general trend was that people seemed to find the fact the scenes occurred within recognisable “real world” settings an aggravating factor, because it made them feel as if this was something that could happen to them.’
The body yesterday said it was ‘premature’ to say what changes might be made to the guidelines, which would become clearer when the research is completed in the autumn. But a BBFC spokesman added: ‘It is certainly fair to say that the qualitative part of the research, at least, suggests heightened public concerns about the issue of sexual violence and some desire for a further tightening of our already strict standards at 15.
‘The second stage of the consultation process is a large-scale quantitative exercise in which around 10,000 people are polled about their opinions. That is under way now.’
‘Violence and misogyny’