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Censor for a Day results

This page explains results from a recent Censor for a Day event and goes through the criteria used by students to classify the film.

Results for Term 2, 2016


Introduction

The Term 2, 2016 Censor for a Day event was held at Event Cinemas Lower Hutt and New Plymouth, at Downtown Cinemas Palmerston North and Reading Cinemas Napier. Around 280 students from 15 schools attended.

Censor for a Day has three key purposes:

  • to provide senior Media Studies students with first-hand experience of the classification system, which they are studying at school;
  • to engage with students and inform them about the classification system, which directly impacts their day-to-day media choices and consumption; and
  • to give the Classification Office insight into the opinions of key stakeholders in the classification system.
Classification Office Advisor Henry Talbot giving a presentation at the New Plymouth event

High school students form a significant group in terms of cinematic film, online film and DVD/Blu-ray audiences, and are directly affected by age-restricted film classifications in a way that adults are not.

Students were given a presentation about New Zealand's censorship system by Information Unit Advisor Henry Talbot, including an overview of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. They also learned about the process followed by Classification Officers when classifying films, video games, and other publications.

Students were asked to evaluate the film Mr Right using the classification criteria. The film had been classified but not yet released in New Zealand.

Classification Office Advisor Henry Talbot giving a presentation at the Napier event

After watching the film, the students completed a classification form with guidance from Classification Office staff and decided on an appropriate classification. Henry then led a discussion about how they applied the classification criteria to the film, and the reasons behind their individual classification choices. There was also opportunity for students to ask the Chief Censor and other Classification Office staff questions about the New Zealand classification system.

In order to ensure that the Classification Office performs its role effectively, it is important to be aware of the public's views on our classification decisions, and on the classification system as a whole. Censor for a Day is not only about teaching young people about the classification system. It's about hearing their views on the role of censorship in our society, especially as it relates to children and young people as they are generally the groups most affected by the decisions we make. As always, the views of participating students were thoughtful, constructive, and sometimes challenging. We are grateful for the chance to hear their voices.

The film

Mr Right is classified R16 in New Zealand with the descriptive note 'violence and offensive language'. The romantic comedy follows Martha as she falls for a seemingly perfect guy who turns out to be a hitman on the run from the crime cartels who employ him.

This sort of violent comedy — think 'True Lies' meets 'Grosse Pointe Blank' is tough to pull off, but Spanish director Paco Cabezas and screenwriter Max Landis ('American Ultra') nail a screwball fantasy vibe that stops just inches short of downright silliness

Lou Lumenick, New York Post

Please note that this report contains spoilers for people who have not seen the film!

Survey results: an overview

Due to the extent, degree and manner in which Mr Right deals with violence, offensive language, crime, sex and dangerous imitable conduct, most students (88%) thought the film should have an age restriction. These ranged from RP13 (restricted to people 13 years and over unless accompanied by a parent or guardian) to R18 (restricted to people 18 years and over).

The most common classification chosen by students was R16 (47% chose this), followed by R13 (16%) and RP16 (13%). Twelve percent of students opted for the unrestricted M classification (suitable for mature audiences 16 years and over).

Chart showing classification chosen by students: R18 2 %, R16 47%, R15 6%, R13 16%, RP16 13%, RP13 4%, M 12%

Choosing a classification

Communications Manager Sue Hoyle takes students through the classification exercise in Palmerston North

Students filled out the classification form, a pared down version of a 21-page consideration sheet that Classification Officers use when classifying a film.

The exercise involved students answering questions that relate to specific sections in the Classification Act. When deciding on a classification, students had to consider the potential for the film to be harmful to young people, while also considering New Zealanders' right to freedom of expression under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, 1990, "including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind".

The students were asked to decide on a suitable classification and descriptive note in order to prevent any likelihood of injury to the public good from the availability of the film, while balancing the right to freedom of expression provided by the Bill of Rights Act.

Classification criteria questions

  • Does the film contain sex, horror, crime, cruelty, violence, offensive language or content likely to increase the risk of young people harming themselves or others? How are these things depicted?
  • Audience: who is this film intended for?
  • What is the impact of viewing the film at a cinema? Would it be different on DVD?
  • Does the film have any merit, value or importance in terms of literary, social, cultural, educational or scientific matters?
  • What will be the dominant effect of the film on its likely audience?
  • Is a restricted classification a justified limit on freedom of expression under the Bill of Rights Act?

Reasons for students' classifications

R18 - restricted to people 18 years and over

R18 classification label

The adults only R18 classification was chosen by 2% of students. These students generally thought that the comedic and stylised nature of the killing and cruelty sends the wrong message to children and teens:

The film is brutally violent, but the violence is treated light-heartedly, which is not really an appropriate message to be sending younger people. Profanity is used over-freely and is likely to seriously offend. Lastly it glorifies pain, suffering and fighting.

Student from Palmerston North

The story and action of the film is fine, but the way the female protagonist got used to killing people so quickly and smile while doing it is disturbing. All I saw as the "moral" of the film was, if you have a bad life, join up with a crazy guy and go kill people, it will make your life better. Reminds me of school shootings.

Student from Palmerston North

R16 - restricted to people 16 years and over

R16 classification label

The R16 classification was chosen by 47% of students. Those who chose R16 did so for a variety of reasons. The most common harms identified related to violence, cruelty, offensive language, and dangerous imitable conduct (the knife-throwing scene). There were differing views about whether the comedic tone made the content in the film more or less potentially harmful:

Because of the heavy focus on criminal and violent behaviour, however this is presented in a way that makes it look cool/desirable and therefore younger audiences are more inclined to be influenced by this behaviour and reflect it themselves.

Student from Wellington

Vile language, can be tolerated by older audiences. The knife catching scene could be re-enacted by kids particularly around the age of 13. Wasn't quite nightmare fuel in terms of blood or gore but still pretty bad.

Student from Wellington

Children find it hard to determine what is real life and fantasy. Children may imitate things seen in the movie and cause danger to themselves or others.

Student from Wellington

There is extensive violence used in this film, however it is dealt with in a comedic manner. I think that this would send the wrong message to younger viewers, that violence/crime is not a serious matter.

Student from Wellington

This movie contains violence which is emphasised with special effects that makes it seem a lot more violent and could negatively affect a young audience by giving them short/long term effects like nightmares or anger problems it would harm both the watcher and others if they attempted to re-enact certain scenes.

Student from New Plymouth

There is a lot of violence throughout the entire film. Younger viewers may not understand some of the innuendos, but also that the bullet holes and blood is quite realistic and could be frightening. It may have a negative impact on viewers of a young age as they may think it'd be cool to be a hitman.

Student from New Plymouth

Contains very crude language which could have negative impact/implications for persons younger than 16, if repeated. Contains graphic violence and depictions of crime which could negatively impact society if viewed by persons younger than 16, especially if repeated.

Student from Palmerston North

High levels of crime, violence, sex and cruelty but not to the extent or manner that would warrant a higher rating such as R18. Although all these aspects occur right through the film, it is often comedy related. Has the potential to harm younger individuals. Allowing crime to be committed and escaping consequences may mean those younger try to do the same.

Student from Napier

R15 - restricted to people 15 years and over

R15 classification label

The R15 classification was chosen by 6% of students. Reasons were generally similar to those choosing R16:

Quite a lot of violence throughout the film which could be a negative influence and disturb younger audience, especially the killing. There was also cruelty with no remorse towards a female character in the film. The flippancy with the violence would also disturb younger audiences.

Student from Wellington

There is potential violence and swearing however this is backed by a comedic tone. There is hardly any sexual behaviour (a small bit however a sex scene isn't really viewed). Younger people watching this could copy some of the acts seen in this such as the throwing knife scene. Violence is also a major theme however the mood makes it less horrific and influential on younger viewers.

Student from Napier

R13 - restricted to people 13 years and over

R13 classification label

R13 was chosen by 16% of students. Those classifying the film R13 were also concerned with violence, cruelty, offensive language, and dangerous imitable conduct, but felt that younger teenagers would not be harmed by this material. These students were more likely to see the comedic tone as a mitigating factor:

There is violence, cruelty, crime and slight offensive language but a lot of it is done in a comedic way. Rarely is it handled seriously. People over 13 (or 13) should be able to handle these factors without feeling encouraged to carry these out in our society. However people younger than this may have trouble seeing the comedic, light tone.

Student from Wellington

This film contains violence and offensive language that would not be a good influence on anyone under the age of 13. When the degree of violence is considered the film may suit an R16 rating, however I am unsure, therefore am going with the lower rating due to the Bill of Rights Act. This movie definitely requires a restricted classification.

Student from New Plymouth

Foul language, a lot of violence but no serious/gory violence and crime – not enough serious violence to make it R16 or R18 but enough to not let young kids watch it.

Student from Palmerston North

Could easily convince younger children to treat knives, guns, violence as a game. Sexual references are inappropriate for anyone under this age but it is to a low extent. Makes violence look normalised and desirable, e.g. in their relationships. The woman is only "strong" and "desired" when she kills too.

Student from Napier

The content included questionable themes such as sex, crime and violence and also very casual use of offensive language which would tend towards an R16 rating. However the manner in which this was portrayed was always comedic and light hearted and as the protagonists were clearly crazy I believe that, for an audience old enough to understand that the content is not serious, that it would not be injurious to the public good. Because of this and the Bill of Rights I have given the movie the lower rating of R13.

Student from Napier

While it contains frequent violence and crime, the tone is comedic and it is not a serious focus or portrayed in a serious manner. Despite this the scenes of violence containing blood and death are not suitable for younger children. It may give them an understanding that this attitude to crime is normal and the casual violence could shock and scare them.

Student from Napier

RP16 and RP13 - restricted to people 16/13 and over unless accompanied by a parent or guardian

RP16 classification label

RP16 was chosen by 13% of students and RP13 by 4%. Students acknowledged that some content in the film could be harmful to children and/or younger teens but that having a parent or guardian present would allow for discussion and help put the content of the film in context:

A lot of negative references however as they are portrayed in a humorous or non-intense manner I believe a person under 16 would be fine watching it with a parent.

Student from New Plymouth

Because there could be harms from this film but some parents could allow their children to watch this film if they are with them. The harms could be that they might be disturbed by the insane morals of the main character. They could also be disturbed by the violence and gruesome images shown in the film.

Student from New Plymouth

It is only suitable for 13 and over however it is light-hearted in manner and doesn't necessarily paint violence in a good light. Also any influences such as encouraging knife throwing could be moderated by a parent.

Student from Napier

I think "Mr Right" should be rated R16 as it contains violence and some blood (gore) that could be unsuitable for younger audience members, as it could influence or encourage violence/gun use among them. But I also believe that some younger than 16 may enjoy it, so seeing it with a parent could help with discussions about the films themes etc.

Student from Napier

I believe that the level of crime and violence in this movie and the casual, normalised manner in which it is carried out has the potential to send young people the wrong messages. But with a parent/guardian present younger people will understand better that there are consequences to crime.

Student from Napier

M - unrestricted: suitable for mature audiences 16 years and over

M classification label

The 12% of students who opted for the unrestricted M classification considered the content to be relatively low impact and suggested that the film was unlikely to cause harm if made available to children. These students generally thought that the unrealistic/comedic tone meant the film would have less impact on younger audiences:

Although the film contains offensive language and violence, it is mainly alongside comedic elements, so I don't think there would be any reason for it to cause harm. But the language, violence & crime means it is best suited for mature audiences. There is also some sexual references, but nothing is shown, just implied.

Student from Wellington

Because it may have certain things that some may find offensive, its nothing too dark or that some people of a younger age may find disturbing or have a negative effect on their life, causing mental stress or long or short term effects.

Student from Palmerston North

Yes it contains violence etc. but only in the pursuit of humour. Someone mature enough to understand that throwing knives is bad and excessive swearing is not accepted in certain communities etc. should be allowed to see the film. This rating warns the audience about the material of the film without restricting freedom of choice.

Student from Napier

Classification by gender and age

Male students tended to assign more restrictive classifications overall. Males were more likely to choose the R16 classification (56% of males compared to 36% of females), and females were more likely to choose R13, RP16 and unrestricted M. Twenty percent of female students classified the film M, compared with 4% of males.

Chart showing classification chosen by students according to gender: R18 2%(F) 2%(M), R16 36%(F) 56%(M), R15 6%(F) 7%(M), R13 17%(F) 14%(M), RP16 15% (F) 11% (M), RP13 3%(F) 5%(M), M 20%(F) 4%(M)

More male students (53%) attended the events than females (46%). Some students identified as a gender other than male or female, and some did not specify a gender.

The majority of participants (81%) were 17 years old, 7% were aged 16, and 9% were aged 18. Sixteen year olds were more likely to choose the RP16 classification (25%) than 17 or 18 year olds (13% and 4%).

The classification criteria

Students were asked if the film contained potentially restricted material such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty, violence, or highly offensive language. The students were also asked to describe how this material is depicted or otherwise dealt with in the film.

All students agreed that Mr Right contained violence, and almost all agreed that it contained offensive language (98%) and crime (97%). A majority thought the film contained dangerous imitable conduct (73%) and sex (66%).

Chart showing what percentage of students agreed that the film included the following: Violence 100%, Offensive language 98% Crime 97%, Dangerous imitable conduct 73%, Sex 66%, Cruelty 45%, Degrading/demeaning conduct 19%, Horror 7%, Self harm/suicide 1%
* Conduct that, if imitated, would pose a risk of serious harm to a child or young person
** Physical conduct that is degrading, demeaning or dehumanising

Criteria considered by the Classification Office

The Classification Office restricted the film to people 16 years and over. The restriction was primarily due to the film's treatment of violence, cruelty, and offensive language. Most students agreed that these criteria were present in the film. In the summary of reasons for its classification decision the Classification Office said that:

The dominant effect of the film as a whole is a high-intensity comedy involving choreographed violence and computer-generated special effects. The film contains widespread depictions of violence which is likely to be disturbing to children and younger teenagers. Furthermore it uses extensive violence and cruelty in a gleefully gratuitous manner encouraging the viewer to find amusement in these presentations. The frequent use of abusive offensive language is further cause for a restriction. Older teenagers and adults familiar with this type of black comedy will read the context and not be affected by it. Therefore the film is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 16 years. This interferes with the right to freedom of expression but is tolerated by the requirements of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act because it is a reasonable limitation in the interest of preventing injury to the public good.

Classification Office written decision, April 2016

Classification Office's R16 classification decision for Mr Right (PDF, 99KB)

Classification criteria considered by students

A still image from the film of Martha pointing a gun
Violence

All students thought the film contained violence. Students noted that violence was throughout the film and usually portrayed in a stylised or comedic way. However many mentioned that the depictions were nonetheless often brutal and quite graphic, with a high impact. Some thought that violence was in some ways portrayed in a positive light, and this could have a negative impact on young people.

A still image from the film of Martha and Francis wearing matching outfits with the words 'bitch one' and 'bitch two' on the shirts
Offensive language

Almost all (98%) students thought the film contained offensive language. Students noted that offensive language was used throughout the film. Sometimes aggressive and derogatory language was used as part of threatening behaviour, and this was considered to have a higher impact. Some students pointed out that a younger audience may not be able to understand the context of the language use and could therefore use this type of language in inappropriate situations. Some of the more aggressive language use could also be shocking or offensive to younger people.

A still image from the film of gang members' assorted weapons
Crime

Most students (97%) thought the film contained crime. Depictions of criminal activity included murder (including contract killings), assault, kidnapping, drug use, and impersonating an FBI agent. Many considered depictions of crime to be somewhat promotional or glamourised. The main characters are both involved in violent criminal activity which was seen as largely consequence-free.

A still image from the film of Martha avoiding a knife being swiped at her
Conduct that, if imitated, would pose a risk of serious harm to a child or young person

A majority of students (73%) thought the film contained conduct that would be dangerous if imitated by a child or young person. Comments usually focused on the knife-throwing scene, in which the two main characters throw knives at each other and catch them. Aspects of this scene that were concerning included its light-hearted tone; that it made knife-throwing look easy and fun; that it was an activity easily able to be imitated in homes; and that it made the activity seem sexy.

A still image from the film of Martha's previous boyfriend embracing and kissing a woman on a table
Sex

A majority of students (66%) thought the film contained sexual material, though it did not depict actual sex scenes. Students frequently mentioned that sex was implied but not shown. Also mentioned was a scene of kissing in the shower, and sexual references used mainly at the start of the film. Sex was generally not considered to be of high impact in extent, degree or manner. Male students were significantly more likely to say the film contained sexual material (79% compared to 52% of females).

The descriptive note

Descriptive notes inform the public about content within a film which may concern them. The descriptive note for Mr Right informs potential viewers that the film ‘contains violence and offensive language’. When students were asked what descriptive note they thought the film should have, most noted violence (99%) and offensive language (93%). Some other notes suggested were for sexual content or references (48%), crime (20%), and drug use/references (9%).

Female students were more likely to suggest a descriptive note for crime (27% compared with 14% of males), and male students were more likely to suggest a note for sexual content/references (54% to 39%).

Chart showing what students thought the descriptive note should include: Violence 99%, Offensive language 93%, Sexual content/references 48%, Crime 20%, Drug use/references 9%

Audience

The majority of students identified teenagers and young adults as the intended or likely audience of the film. Students also identified people who like comedies or action films as the likely or intended audience.

Dominant effect

Students were asked about the dominant effect of the film as a whole on its likely audience: what type of film was it and how would it make viewers feel? Many students identified the film as a comedy (specifically a romantic comedy), and/or an action film. Most thought the film would leave the intended audience feeling entertained and in a good mood. Some thought the movie would leave people feeling shocked or disturbed due to all the violence.

Merit, value or importance

When deciding on a film's classification, the Classification Office must consider if it has any merit, value or importance - such as artistic merit or cultural significance. In some cases this could lead to a lighter classification. The majority of students (77%) did not think the film had any particular merit, value or importance. Those who did think the film had merit mentioned that it was well-made, had high quality script, and had good cinematography and music. Some students also mentioned that the film explores the complexity of individuals' moral codes, and encourages acceptance of people who are different or unconventional, showing that we "shouldn't judge a book by its cover".

Impact of the medium

Students were asked to think about the impact of viewing Mr Right in a cinema, and whether the impact would be different if watching the film at home either on Blu-ray/DVD or online. The majority (57%) felt that the film would have a different impact depending on how and where people watched it. Most of these students thought the impact at a cinema would be greater due to surround sound, the larger screen, and in the context of a large audience.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Icon Film Distribution Australia for allowing us to screen this film to students in advance of the New Zealand release date. Without distributors' generosity in lending us a pre-release film, Censor for a Day would not be possible.

Students in Palmerston North raise their hands to indicate which classification they chose

We would also like to thank the cinema managers, projectionists and other staff at Event Cinemas Lower Hutt and New Plymouth, at Downtown Cinemas Palmerston North and Reading Cinemas Napier. Cinema staff provided us with excellent service and ensured the events ran smoothly.

Lastly we would like to thank the students and teachers from around the lower North Island who made the event another success, and who gave us valuable feedback in the process.

Mr Right movie poster

The movie wears its situational zaniness lightly and depends on the rapid-fire dialogue, charm and killer chemistry of its romantic duo. Just enjoy its loopy pleasures.

Nathalie Atkinson, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

Useful links

Stills from the film

A still image from the film of two gang members discussing how to confront Francis
Thugs Von Cartigan (James Ransone) and Shotgun Steve (RZA)
A still image from the film showing Martha pointing a gun with a silencer
Martha McKay (Anna Kendrick) learning some hitman skills
still image from the film of Francis dragging an unconscious man through Martha's apartment while she watches
Francis (Sam Rockwell) dragging an unconscious body in Martha's apartment
still image from the film of Francis pointing a gun
Francis with his distinctive red nose

Classification

R16 classification label
R16: violence and offensive language

Glossary

Classification
A legal statement about who can have access to a publication. A classification can make a publication unrestricted (G, PG, M), restricted (RP or R), or objectionable (banned).
Descriptive note
The extra wording on a classification label which warns people of content in the film e.g. 'M: contains sexual references and offensive language'.
Publication
The definition of 'publication' includes a number of things, such as film, DVDs, books, video games, sound recordings and computer files.