Controversial film has its classification changed.
In the early part of 2004 the Office of Film and Literature Classification was inundated with letters of complaint and support over its decision to classify Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ as R16 with the note 'brutal violence, torture and cruelty'.
The film is a dramatisation of the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus Christ, directed and co-written by Mel Gibson. The story is derived partly from the accounts of the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It also contains events not found in those accounts. The film begins with the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane, shows his trial, conviction and death, and ends with his resurrection.
Most of the film, however, focuses on his scourging, his enforced passage through the streets and his crucifixion. Flashback sequences show Jesus giving sermons, meeting Mary Magdalene, as a little boy being comforted by his mother, and dining with his disciples the evening of his arrest. Satan is frequently shown passing through crowds, observing and taunting Jesus, sometimes carrying a hideous child. Many presentations contain strong Roman Catholic symbolism. All dialogue is spoken in Aramaic and Latin. English subtitles are used, but do not appear to interpret everything said.
There was interest in the film here before it even came to New Zealand.
Even before the film arrived in New Zealand the Classification Office had received inquiries about how it would be classified. Some church groups expressed an interest in helping to classify the film, others expressed the opinion that a secular government-funded office would be anti-Christian and thus shouldn't be allowed to classify it.
After the film was submitted on 16 February 2004, it was viewed by six members of the Classification Office. As usual, one classification officer had responsibility for examining the film, taking notes on what happened in it and writing up the decision.
Since it was expected that the classification decision would excite controversy whatever classification was assigned, both the Chief Censor and the Deputy Chief Censor attended the film's examination, as did two senior classification officers. A member of the Information Unit who was studying Christian theology also attended to provide some expertise on the story.
After watching the film, the group discussed it for several hours. It was agreed that this was a very violent film, unusual particularly in the way that the violence was focused on one person, and in great detail.
It was decided to hold a public consultation to gauge the reaction of a diverse group of Christians and members of other faiths. The distributor, Hoyts, was planning a preview session for ministers and priests, so the Classification Office asked if a questionnaire could be distributed to those who attended. About 80 people filled out the form and, from those, the Chief Censor interviewed five to get a more detailed response. You can read these interviews in the Record of Assistance.
The Classification Office made the film R16 with the note 'brutal violence, torture and cruelty'.
Writing up the decision, doing research on the story as presented in the film, and finalising the classification and descriptive note took another few days. The decision was registered and the distributor notified on 20 February 2004.
The public reacted strongly to the decision to make the film R16.
There was a flood of inquiries and complaints following publication of the decision. Because of the religious nature of the film, the Classification Office could not answer many of these in a way that was meaningful to the correspondents - that is, most of the correspondence was about religious aspects of the film.
If this was a Muslim, Buddhist or Hindi film, I wonder if you would have been so restrictive.Email from a member of the public, 2004
It amazes me that our children have had unlimited access to the Harry Potter films - which are blatantly advocating and progressively training people in witchcraft, that they can watch soaps on TV that promote uncommitted relationships and sexually perverted lifestyles regularly, and yet The Passion which is based on a historical fact is given an R16 rating? As a parent I want my children to see what Jesus did for each of us - graphic violence or not.Fax from a pastor, 2004
My basic point is that no-one should commercially profit from the sacred gospel message, particularly by scenes (described by TIME magazine) as 'near pornographic feats of flayed flesh'. Although the suffering of Christ cannot even be fully represented by Mel Gibson's gory portrayal, this suffering was for sinners thirsty for righteousness, not for those seeking commercial profit or perverted gratification at violence.Email from a member of the public, 2004
People wanted the film banned for a number of reasons which have no relation to the classification criteria. For example, because it was inaccurate, unorthodox, or because they thought certain scenes had been invented to conform to a Roman Catholic point of view. Jewish correspondents were worried that it might incite hatred towards Jews. While most Christian complainants felt that the classification was too high, others complained that the film was too violent, and should have a higher classification. It is worth noting that, as well, a large number of people wrote in supporting the decision.
This is one film that addresses violence in a positive manner and puts it in its proper place.Email from a member of the public, 2004
The distributor asked for a review of the classification decision.
The distributor, Hoyts, decided to ask for a review of the film's classification decision. The Film and Literature Board of Review examines films afresh, as if they have not been classified previously by the Classification Office. The Board viewed the film in early March, and received written and spoken submissions from interested parties.
The Board lowered the classification to R15.
On 5 April, just in time for Holy Week, the President of the Board of Review issued the Board's decision, which lowered the restriction to R15, with the descriptive note 'prolonged sequences of brutal violence, torture and cruelty'. This is the film's current classification in New Zealand.
RP16: graphic content may disturb.
20th Century Fox Film Distribution disagreed with the 'R16 content that may disturb' classification given to the film by the Classification Office and applied to have the decision reviewed. Find out more about 127 Hours
R13: contains violence, offensive language, drug use, and sex scenes.
Initially classified as R16 due to the violent and sexual material, and the depictions of drug use. On appeal by United Pictures this was reviewed and re-classified by the Board of Review. Find out more about 8 Mile
M: contains content that may disturb.
Originally cross-rated PG, we received complaints from parents that their children were frightened by the film. They asked the Chief Censor for permission to have the film assessed using our criteria. Find out more about A Christmas Carol
PG: some scenes may scare very young children.
Originally cross-rated G, we received complaints from parents that their young children were frightened by the film. As a result, the Chief Censor called the film in to be examined by the Classification Office. Find out more about Happy Feet
M: contains offensive language and sexual references.
This film had received its PG rating through the cross-rating process. After complaints from the public, the Chief Censor called the film in to be classified. Find out more about Land of the Lost
RP13: contains violence, drug use and offensive language.
The unusual RP classification is used where a film presents ideas or issues that could challenge younger viewers but might still be valuable to them if they have support while watching. Find out more about Matariki
R13: contains violence and offensive language (film).
RP16: contains graphic violence (video).
Different versions of the film have different classifications as the law changed between the release of the film and the subsequent video. Find out more about Once Were Warriors
R15: contains violence and content that may disturb.
The film is about the massacre of 13 people at Aramoana - a tragic event in New Zealand's history - and this depiction of real life events required special consideration by the Classification Office. Find out more about Out of the Blue
R16: contains horror scenes and offensive language.
Members of the public complained to the Classification Office about the film's unrestricted M rating. They felt that the film was very frightening and contained extremely disturbing themes. Find out more about Paranormal Activity
R13: contains violence, offensive language and sexual references.
The "highly offensive language, much of it sexual in nature" in the film contributed to the R13 classification, as did the film's "crassly homophobic sentiments". Find out more about Paul
R15: depicts graphic and realistic war scenes.
This film generated much debate and became a benchmark for NZ film classification. It contains depictions of serious physical harm which are lengthy, frequent, and of a very graphic nature. Find out more about Saving Private Ryan
R13: contains violence and offensive language (film).
R16: contains violence, offensive language and content that may disturb (Blu-ray).
The Blu-ray edition has a higher rating as it also includes a short film, Manjha, that has the theme of sexual abuse. Find out more about Slumdog Millionaire
R16: contains horror scenes.
Members of the public raised concerns about the M rating on the film as anyone, including young children, could potentially watch it. They felt an age restriction would be more appropriate. The Chief Censor called it in for examination. Find out more about The Grudge
By giving us the feeling of experiencing Jesus' thoughts, and by making us privy to his prayers, The Passion draws us toward Christ's full humanity like no film before.Peter T. Chattaway, Christianity Today
If I were a Christian, I'd be appalled to have this primitive and pornographic bloodbath presume to speak for me.Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader