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Sex, lies and red tape

More films are being rated as NC-16 but why are some films still given a PG treatment and who decides the ratings anyway?


by Terry Ying

I envy teenagers nowadays. They do not have to wait till they are 21 to watch Halle Berry's topless scene in 'Swordfish'.

Normally, hormonally advantaged teens (such as I once was) face a dreadful wait till that fateful age, since originally films that consist of nudity and explicit uses of language were deemed in-appropriate and rated as R(A).

So why are some films nowadays given a rating of NC-16? And how in the world, is Halle Berry's topless scene relevant to the story in 'Swordfish'?

Perhaps I can't answer the latter question. As for the first, there are four classifications in Singapore - G, PG, NC-16 and R(A). These classifications were introduced in 1991. The aim was to provide a wider choice for the adults, to protect the young from unsuitable films and to preserve the artistic integrity of the films with minimal or no cuts.

NC-16 was the least used of the classification. Spokesperson for the Film and Publication Department Angeline Yap explains, "Films rated NC-16 will have fairly adult themes or moderate scenes of violence, coarse language, sex and nudity that may be psychologically disturbing to those under 16."

Recently, however, there have been a spate of films given the NC-16 rating. The first film to be granted the NC-16 rating was Steven Spielberg's World War 2 drama 'Saving Private Ryan' in 1998. It was rated in this manner due to its intense violence.

Now, if you were to look at the cinema listings in the newspapers, you will be able to spot at least two films that have the NC-16 rating.

So it appears that the censorship board is relaxing its grip. But if so, why are some films still rated PG but with cuts? And how do they decide on what rating they should give?

According to the Film and Publication Department, the Censorship Review Committees do not set guidelines.

Instead a public citizenry committee deliberates on censorship policies and standards, taking into account public opinion gathered at the time of review.

The Film and Publication Department then follows the Committee's recommended guidelines and principles and in the censorship process continually involves community participation through the Films Advisory Panel and regular focus groups, to ensure that the guidelines continue to reflect community standards.

However, film distributors who are unhappy with their decision can appeal to the Films Appeal Committee. The decision of the Appeal Committee is final and may override the Department's decision.

One such case was 'Queen Of The Damned'. The distributor of the film requested for a PG rating. After judging the film, the FPD felt that it could be passed under PG with minimal cuts on explicit violence.

Another example is 'The Devil's Advocate'. The film was given two ratings by the censorship board, PG with cuts or R(A) clean. The distributor chose to release the film under the R(A) rating.

But FPD not only considers the distributors' preferred rating and the context of the controversial scenes when rating a film but also bearing in mind at the same time, the suitability of a film for the young, taking into account community input.

At times, the FPD uses a contextual approach. An example is the Military courtroom drama "Rules Of Engagement", where 11 uses of the profanity [the 12 letters word] were uttered during a fierce argument.

Normally, such words will be deemed in-appropriate and edited out. But instead, it was un-edited and classified as PG.

"The vulgarities were uttered in the situation of war under immense pressure and in the situation of the court room under intense arguments. Utterances of the vulgarities occurred in scenes relevant to the context, so FPD felt that it could be allowed for a PG rating based on context," says Ms Yap.

"From these processes, the guidelines evolve with societal changes. Censorship is a constant balancing act ad standards are dynamic depending on societal attitudes and technological changes."

It seems that the censorship become more lenient but in the eyes of the filmgoing public the ratings are still way too harsh.

Grace , 20, says the Film and Publication Department "should be less strict. They should disappear altogether. Leave the "censorship" to be done by the parents by deciding what movies their kids should watch."

She also commented on the vulgarities in films. "As for vulgarities, don't you hear them around you everyday already…without going to the cinema? So where is the problem?"

However not all felt that the censorship board is getting strict. Guolong, 28, said "My view is they are more and more open liao."

Of the people I asked, he's the only one who finds that the censorship board is beginning to lighten up.

Perhaps it's a catch 22. Explains Ms Yap, "While some think that local censorship standards are strict, there are others who think that they are too liberal. We try to balance between the attitudes of the two polarities and arrive at a decision that is suitable for most of the community."

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