Censor for a Day gives senior media students first-hand experience of how the classification system for entertainment media works in New Zealand. The programme 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. As always, the views of participating students were thoughtful, constructive, and sometimes challenging. We are grateful for the chance to hear them.
The Term 1 event was held at Reading Cinemas Wellington, and Events Cinemas in Tauranga, Hamilton, and Manukau. To begin, the students were given a presentation about New Zealand's classification system by Henry Talbot, Senior Advisor in our Information Unit. This included an overview of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. They also learned about the process followed by Classification Advisors (more commonly referred to as censors) when classifying films, electronic games and other publications.
Students then watched a film that had recently been classified. Due to technical issues, two films were used in this round of events. After lunch, students were taken through a classification exercise, guided by Classification Advisor Kim Bishop, to evaluate the film using our classification criteria. They individually completed a classification form and decided on an appropriate classification.
Henry then led a discussion about how the students applied the classification criteria to the film, and the reasons behind their classification choices. There was also opportunity for students to ask our staff questions about New Zealand's classification system.
In Wellington we screened the comedy film Blockers, which follows a group of parents as they try to stop their daughters from losing their virginity on prom night. The film deals with teen sexuality and has received good reviews about the way it deals with relationships and consent.
Students really enjoyed the film. Some said that it was “entertaining, but taught a moral lesson”, and that it “had a healthy message about sex and having a trusting relationship”. Others noted the level of diversity that was shown in the film, and that the film was “empowering and happy”.
In Tauranga, Hamilton and Manukau we screened the comedy film Super Troopers 2, which follows the banter and rivalry between US and Canadian border troopers as their countries vie for a space of land. The film deals with the likes of sex, cruelty and violence, in a slapstick manner.
Students had a lot of insights into the film. One said it made him "laugh, feel awkward, and also uncomfortable". Some noted that the film was funny but "would've been offensive to a lot of Canadians". Some of them noted that it was “kind of weird to see certain parts of the body on the film”. One noted that “it was funny but awks when you're sitting next to a person who's the opposite sex”.
Students completed the classification form, a pared-down version of a seven-page consideration sheet that Classification Advisors use when classifying a film.
The exercise involved students answering questions that relate to specific criteria 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 the right to freedom of expression under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (NZBORA), 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 that would prevent likelihood of injury to the public good from the availability of the film, while balancing the right to freedom of expression provided by the NZBORA.
Students were then taken through a mock classification exercise and asked to give the film a classification.
The vast majority of students and teachers classified both films R16 - around 112 for Blockers and 239 for Super Troopers 2.
Most students felt that these elements meant that audiences needed maturity to appreciate the film. However, students also generally felt that the film empowered young people to make their own decisions around sex and relationships. We classified the film R16 with a note for nudity, drug use, offensive language and sexual themes.
Blockers is a sex comedy with heart that relies on the chemistry and charisma of its main characters. It subverts the usual genre tropes by having three girls as its main protagonists who are ultimately confident enough to make informed decisions regarding their sexuality. The film is clearly intended for mature audiences. Although the sexual themes addressed in this film are largely positive, children and younger teenagers are likely to be exposed to material that is beyond their level of maturity and this is likely to have a negative impact on their sexual development. The depictions of sex, which include sexualised nudity, are in appropriate for a younger audience and are likely to give younger viewers a distorted view of adult sexual relationships. The depictions of drug use may have a promotional effect on younger impressionable viewers who do not have the knowledge and life experience to know that the presentation is unrealistic and that drug use is illegal. The frequent use of highly offensive language also indicates a mature intended audience.Classification Office written decision, March 2018
Super Troopers 2
More students in Manukau classified Super Troopers 2 R18 than in Tauranga and Hamilton; however, more students in Manukau also classified the film as unrestricted. We classified the film R16 with a note for violence, offensive language, drug use, sexual material and content that may offend.
The regular crude sexual references, the use of derogatory or homophobic humour and bullying behaviour are all intentionally offensive and typical of teen ‘gross out’ comedies of this type. Children and younger teens are unlikely to understand the use of comedy in this context and will either be highly offended or encouraged to adopt the negative and unacceptable attitudes shown in the film. Illicit drug use and the misuse of prescription drugs is somewhat normalised as a fun activity without regard for physical or legal consequences. The regular and casual use of offensive language and the way violence is trivialised also contribute to the need for a restriction.Classification Office decision, March 2018
We would like to thank Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox. Without their generosity in lending us the film, the event would not have been possible.
We would also like to thank the cinema managers, projectionists and caterers at Reading and Events cinemas, who provided us with excellent service and ensured the events ran smoothly.
Lastly we would like to thank the students and teachers from the cities we visited who made the event another success, and who gave us valuable feedback in the process. We hope to see some of you at a future event!
Crucially, a lot of the gags hit well. It’s not a laugh riot – the gross-outs and dick jokes are pretty average – but there’s a lot of heart in the clearly defined characters that pays off with what feels like organic humour.Daniel Rutledge, Flicks
Their humor gets its slapstick from the Three Stooges, its non sequitur verbal mojo from the less-cerebral routines of the Firesign Theater, with a dash of Monty Python tossed in. The troupe’s bro rambunctiousness stems from “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” but the crude sexual humor, thankfully I’d have to say, mostly sticks to the mocking of male genitalia.Glenn Kenny, New York Times
Blockers: Nudity, drug use, offensive language and sexual themes.
Super Troopers 2: Violence, offensive language, drug use, sexual material and content that may offend.