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Censor for a Day results Term 1, 2019

Results for Term 1, 2019


Introduction

This term we visited Porirua, in Wellington. Around 200 senior Media Studies students and their teachers, from six schools, attended the event.

The day started with a presentation on New Zealand’s classification system. This included an overview of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, and of the process followed by our office to classify films, games and other publications.

Film: Hotel Mumbai

We acknowledge that the Porirua event took place on the same day as the Christchurch mosque shooting. We only became aware of this tragedy after the event had finished. We followed up with teachers to ensure the students were OK, and offered resources to help anyone who may have been affected. Subsequent sessions using the film were cancelled and the film distributor suspended screenings in cinemas nationwide.

Students watched the film Hotel Mumbai, a biographical thriller film that follows the 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, India. The film follows staff and guests as they band together to survive as the extremists systematically siege the hotel to eliminate anyone they can find. Archival and fictional news reporting is integrated into the narrative to add authenticity to the film.

We expected the film would generate a rich conversation about how classification criteria should be applied to the film, particularly in regards to violence, and the potential harms presented by some of the content. As expected, the views of participating students were constructive and thought-provoking.

Discussion

After the film, students were taken through a classification exercise to evaluate it using criteria from the FVPC Act. They individually completed a classification worksheet and decided on an appropriate classification and descriptive note for the film. We then had a group discussion about the classification criteria and asked the students to talk about the reasons behind their classification choices.

Most students felt that the elements of violence and cruelty were the most impactful in the film. The casual brutality of the terrorists, and the intense feeling of dread led to the audience feeling shocked and somewhat scared. Most students agreed that the senseless killing was too violent for children and young teens. They noted:

  • Violence is depicted regularly throughout the film. There are frequent (and at times frenetic) scenes of the extremists targeting people with high-powered automatic rifles. Students described these scenes as “intense” and “stressful” to watch. 
  • Some audience members pointed out the use of sound effects to instil fear.
  • Students had mixed thoughts about how graphic the violence was, with some identifying the violence as “high impact” and “gory”, while others argued that as much of the killing took place just off screen, it was largely left to the viewer’s imagination.
  • Students described the emotional and physical depictions of cruelty as “intense”, “realistic” and “relentless”. 
  • With regards to crime, there is no question as to whether the film depicts terrorism. However, students unanimously agreed that the film did not promote or support the extremist beliefs of the terrorists. Rather than endorsing terrorism, the students felt the film focused on the harrowing nature of terrorism and the barbarity of these acts.
  • Many students agreed that the offensive language wasn’t as impactful when it was subtitled. However, a Hindi student noted that it is uncommon to hear certain offensive words in Hindi, so it was quite shocking for her to hear.

Overall, while students were emotionally impacted by the violence in the film, their responses were very positive and encouraging. A lot of the audience indicated that they weren’t aware of the Mumbai terror attacks, and that after watching the film they felt more informed. Many students felt that the film had educational, historical and social merit for this reason. We also discussed to what extent should violence be depicted when it represents a real-life event.

How did students classify the film?

The vast majority of students and teachers classified the film as either R16 or RP16.

Our office classified the film R16 with a note for violence, cruelty and offensive language. Here is an excerpt from the written decision:

The dominant effect of Hotel Mumbai is a harrowing tension-filled action thriller based on real events. The focus of the film is the heroism of the hotel staff and the callous reality of terrorism. The film has merit for depicting a historical event in an artistic manner.

The unrestricted availability of the film is likely to be injurious to the public good. Younger viewers are likely to be shocked by the extent and degree of violence, especially the casual brutality of the extremists. They are also likely to be deeply unsettled by constant threat and tension faced by the innocent staff and guests as they evade the extremists. The use of offensive language also supports a restricted classification. Older teenagers and adults will have the maturity and experience to contextualise all of the material within a terrorist thriller that is inspired by recent events.

Classification Office written decision, February 2019

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Icon Film Distribution for their generosity in lending us the film and providing us with stills to use in this report. Without this, the event would not have been possible.

We would also like to thank the team at Reading Cinemas Porirua, who provided us with excellent service and ensured the event ran smoothly.

Last but not least, we thank the students and teachers who made the event another success and gave us valuable feedback in the process. We hope to see some of you again next time!

Hotel Mumbai

Deep down, the makers of “Hotel Mumbai” don’t really care what started the attack (except perhaps how irrational the underlying motivation of the terrorists is). They’re more intrigued by who stopped it — or at least who helped some of its victims get through it alive. They’re not always the people whose lives, and whose sacrifices, we think about — or even notice — when we stay in fancy hotels. But there’s a quiet radicalism in making a movie that is, at its heart, all about them.

Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post

Useful links

Stills from the film

Arjun holds his child in a busy crowd
Arjun holds his child in a busy crowd
Sally, David, and Zahra are warmly welcomed to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel by staff. Sally holds a baby.
Sally, David, and Zahra are warmly welcomed to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel by staff
Vasili holds Zahra by her arms. They look dishevelled and stressed.
Vasili takes Zahra by the arms in order to escape from the terrorists

Classification

R16 label
R16: Violence, cruelty 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.