Movies Banned Across The World

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I have always been interested in film censorship. I wrote my university dissertation on the Video Nasties of the 1980’s and am fascinated by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) website which I peruse frequently. I think it is a case of being interested in what is deemed suitable or not and why this is the case. Whether its sex, violence or bad language, how do we know what people can tolerate and put an age restriction on it or even ban it completely. Obviously this is different according to the censors, context and even the circumstances in a particular country.

Therefore, I decided to look at what films are deemed to be unsuitable all over the world, especially the movies that we would think to be mostly innocuous. No amount of cuts by the censor could prevent it from being banned in a certain country. I’m bypassing the movies that would be banned for obvious reasons, mostly those of sexual violence (Cannibal Holocaust, A Serbian Movie, I Spit on Your Grave, etc) so I decided to share with you all some that you probably wouldn’t expect to see in the restricted zone.

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Schindler’s List – Spielberg’s Oscar winning masterpiece of modern cinema is a very hard watch due to its subject matter and intense visuals. However, it is probably one of the most important films of all time. This isn’t seen to be the case in Indonesia where censors banned it in 1994, some cite that it is due to the film being sympathetic to the Jewish cause and there is no place for it in a heavily Muslim populated region. The National Censorship Board insist however it is due to too much nudity and violence.

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Brief EncounterBrief Encounter is, by today’s standards, massively innocuous in its treatment of an emotional love affair between two married people who meet at a train station. There’s no sex scene or heavy petting, it’s all implied within the dialogue. However, this is still too much in Ireland where the film is still banned because the movie is too “permissive of adultery”. This is a big surprise, especially if you’ve seen the movie, which is rated PG in England, but they seem to be sticking to their guns as the ban doesn’t seem to be lifting any time soon despite all the highly sexed films we see today.

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Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan: Probably not too surprising, the ban has still not been lifted in Kazakhstan (as well as Russia) where it was deemed offensive. This would be in part to the opening and closing scenes that portrayed the locals as poor and stupid or rapists. Countries all over the world have been portrayed with negative and unflattering stereotypes but this was just deemed too far from Sasha Baron Cohen. Kazakhstan, however have since thanked Borat for the boost to their economy from tourism as a result of the movie’s success.

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Zoolander: Another set of locals to get offended by western comedy was that of the Malaysian government who didn’t see the funny side of the movie’s plot to assassinate the Malaysian Prime Minister. I don’t think they were too impressed with the depiction of the sweat shops visited by Derek Zoolander either. The country has form in this area who have also banned Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

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The Wolf of Wall Street: Martin Scorsese’s Oscar winning portrayal of the life of Jordan Belfort pushes all the boundaries, but looked like it pushed a few too many in Kenya where the Classification Board banned the movie citing “extreme scenes of nudity, sex, debauchery, hedonism and cursing” as the main reasons. It is against the law to watch the film within the boundaries of the country and arrests were made last year when pirate copies started to circulate which could have resulted in a couple of years in prison.

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2012: Roland Emmerich’s film was not banned for being an average disaster movie but for showing the apocalypse happening in the year 2012. Although the Mayans had this in their calendar as the end of humanity for a very long time the North Koreans had a different way of thinking. Because it was the hundredth year anniversary of the birth of ‘The Great Leader’ Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il declared it was the year that North Korea was to “open the grand gates to becoming a rising superpower”. Therefore watching a film about the world’s destruction would be highly inappropriate and anyone caught watching the film was to be prosecuted. Not really worth it in my opinion, they should watch The Road instead.

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The Simpsons Movie: Whether this one is genuine or not is a mystery as there isn’t enough written on the matter but apparently The Simpsons Movie and its TV show counterpart are both banned in Burma because the censors in the country don’t allow the colours yellow and red combined on screen. Baffling.

In Britain in America there are not that many films that don’t get past the censor these days, the only ones lately to have come up against some trouble here lately are The Human Centipede 2 and A Serbian Film, both of which required cuts. Every Classification Board knows the context of the society in which they live so they should be the best positioned to make these decisions but sometimes those decisions may be deemed questionable.

The Death of British Cinema?

So the announcements for the Oscar Nominations have been made and nine films are up for best picture, with Hugo, The Artist and The Descendents leading the pack. However, throughout the list of nominations there was a distinct lack of British contribution. Although last year our fair nation dominated the awards season with The King’s Speech there is very little to shout about this year, with the only nomination worth any acknowledgement being Gary Oldman’s for his Best Actor nod for his role of George Smiley in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Now, we could look at this and suggest that the Americans have very much just stuck to their own this year and not gone down the road of nominating less mainstream, British flicks such as Tyrannosaur and Tinker itself. However, I believe we must look towards our own shores as to why this year has been such a damp squib for British film.

A few weeks ago, David Cameron visited Pinewood studios as the government assessed how the film industry has been performing and ultimately deciding whether The Conservatives should continue to fund the British Film Industry (BFI). In 2010 their decision to cut all funding towards the UK Film Council was met with fierce opposition from actors, directors and film fans. However, this was expected from an economy making cuts all across the board.

Upon visiting Pinewood, David Cameron said he wanted more films like The King’s Speech, films that not only garner favour and help the world see the power of British cinema, but are also marketable and economically viable. Sorry Mr Cameron but only very few films are critically successful across the board while making a lot of money, garnering huge audiences and achieving awards success. Especially when all of the funding for potential filmmakers to spread their wings is axed. If they cannot begin somewhere then audiences are going to have the same formulaic, systematic cinema repeated year after year and British cinema will go into a dark age, the likes in which various European countries such as Spain and Italy were facing under dictatorships. It is a shame that The Conservatives only seek an economically beneficially culture, putting it ahead of artistry. One thing that politicians should never do is dabble in the creative industry because a cut in funding now could damage the amount of money that British films contribute to the economy in the future.

This is why we have had so many directors moving to Hollywood such as Christopher Nolan, Tom Hooper, Edgar Wright, Gareth Edwards and so on. This is because there is just no money over here whereas in the States they get the freedom and the economic stability to make the films they want. We are in severe danger of living in a cinematic world of sequels, generic films and American imports, that while good, rids us of our culture and what made our films famous in the first place. It is a deep shame that out government do not believe in the age old mantra Ars Gratia Artis, Arts for art’s sake. Comedian Stewart Lee perfectly sums up the attitude to the arts here and describes how this started with Mrs Thatcher back in the eighties.

Cameron also wants a cut in the gritty dramas that don’t make much money, although that is what our industry is based upon. The films of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach are much more important to society than the money they produced. Where would the film industry be without the pioneers of British cinema such as Humphrey Jennings, David Lean and Powell and Pressburger. What these people did was more important than the money. Where would we be without film funding, some of the most influential and important films would have never been made and many of the best British directors would never have begun their careers.

More money must be pumped into the film industry, the museums are given huge amounts and while important it does not have the same power of transcendence as cinema. Not everyone has access to the museums, with some thinking they are only for the rich and culturally literate to enjoy whereas film transcends classes and economics. It has the emotive power that any other medium doesn’t. If The Conservatives do not push money into this cause the BFI will be dead within the decade and we will all be so much the poorer for it.