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Film case study - 8 Mile

Re-classified on appeal

An appeal results in a re-classification from R16 to R13.

8 Mile was submitted to the Office of Film and Literature Classification by the Film and Video Labelling Body on behalf of United International Pictures (the distributor for the film in New Zealand). The film had been classified as restricted to people 15 years and over by the British Board of Film Classification. It was likely to require restriction and had to be classified by the Classification Office.

The plot

The film is loosely based on the life of the musician Eminem.

8 Mile is an American production starring well-known rapper Eminem. It is a semi-autobiographical drama: Eminem plays a young white man, Jimmy Smith Jnr, living on the wrong side of Detroit's black/white divide, Eight Mile Road. Jimmy is known to his friends as Rabbit. He has a 'trailer trash' mother, a dead end job, and ambitions. He wants to succeed in the world of hip hop, a genre dominated by African Americans. He is supported by a group of friends, mainly young black men.

There is opposition from other young black people in the neighbourhood who object to a white boy succeeding in a black domain. Key scenes take place at a rap club called the Shelter, where rappers compete one-on-one in 'battles'. A strong theme throughout is the overcoming of adversity through belief in yourself, but there is also considerable footage showing other themes such as the importance of friends.

Classification Office decision

The Office classified 8 Mile as R16.

The written decision notes that the extent and degree of violent and sexual material, and the depictions of drug use, guided the classification. While the film featured extensive use of offensive language, this was not part of the classification criteria in 2002. It was not until the 2005 amendments to the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 that highly offensive language became a criterion under which films could be restricted.

The Classification Office noted that the dominant effect of the film was its focus on the life of an angry young rapper played by Eminem. The decision mentions that the depiction of violence, sex and cannabis use as an acceptable part of the lifestyle of the characters could cause injury to the public good if the publication was avaliable to a young audience, who could not understand the wider context of these factors.

8 Mile was classified R16 with the descriptive note 'contains violence, offensive language, drug use and sex scenes'.

Classification Office's R16 classification decision for 8 Mile (PDF, 15KB)

The appeal

On 13 January 2003 Peter Garner, the Managing Director for United Pictures (the film's distributor) applied for a review by the Film and Literature Board of Review. The application for review was made under section 47 of the Classification Act.

United Pictures noted that after the film had been classified in New Zealand, the Australian Classification Board had classified it M with the descriptive note 'contains medium level coarse language, adult themes, medium level sex scenes, medium level violence'.

United Pictures wrote in its submission to the Board of Review that it believed the New Zealand R16 classification of 8 Mile was too high, and did not take account of the 'good news' story that motivated this movie to be made:

...we ask the Film and Literature Board of Review to reconsider the current classification of R16 and give fair consideration to the overall theme and good news message 8 Mile is sending our youth. We believe that if this balance test is applied you will conclude that R16 is in reality too harsh and unreasonable.

United International Pictures (NZ)

Distributor's submission to the Board of Review (PDF, 36KB)

The Classification Office's submission

The Classification Office's written submission to the Film and Literature Board of Review noted the sexual, violent and criminal content in the film.

An R16 classification is a remedy that is sufficent to remove the injury likely to remain with a lower restriction, and is also therefore a reasonable limitation on the freedom of expression that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Office of Film and Literature Classification written submission to the Board of Review

Classification Office's submission to the Board of Review (PDF, 85KB)

The Board of Review

The Board of Review is required to classify a film using the same legal criteria as the Classification Office. The decision of the Board of Review on 8 Mile summarises the submissions made by United Pictures and the Classification Office, and the legal guidelines set out in the Act that the Board must follow.

In relation to sexual content the Board's decision noted that:

The sexual activity in 8 Mile is perhaps no more graphic than some television programmes which are freely avaliable for viewing by even pre-teen children... however ...[it] is explicit enough to be unacceptable for pre-teen children to view and process in a manner appropriate for their age.

The Board's decision also mentions criminal and violent elements in the film. Both submissions had discussed offensive language in the film. The Board noted that the teenagers, the likely audience, would know that the language in the film is not acceptable in a lot of situations.

Board of Review classification

The Board of review changed the classification from R16 to R13.

The Film and Literature Board of Review classified 8 Mile as R13 with the descriptive note 'contains violence, offensive language, drug use, and sex scenes'.

Board of Review's R13 classification decision for 8 Mile (PDF, 158KB)

Other film case studies

8 Mile poster

Take away the napalm spread of profanity, impromptu scenes of steamy sex and the myriad joints that get smoked, and 8 Mile is basically a Disney sports movie with rap as the athletics of choice.

Nick Rogers, Springfield State Journal-Register

Useful links

Stills from the film

A still image from the film of Jimmy Smith Jr sitting on a train, looking out the window
Eminem as Jimmy Smith Jr
A still image from the film of Jimmy and Alex walking very closely together, deep in conversation
Jimmy and Alex (Brittany Murphy)
A still image from the film of Jimmy performing on stage in front of an ecstatic audience
B-Rabbit, Jimmy's rap persona, onstage in the final rap battle

Classification

R13 classification label
R13: contains violence, offensive language, drug use, and sex scenes