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Censor for a Day results

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

Results for Term 2, 2015


The Term 2, 2015 Censor for a Day event was held at Event Cinemas Lower Hutt, State Cinemas Nelson, Reading Cinemas Dunedin and Hoyts Riccarton in Christchurch. Around 380 students and 15 teachers from 17 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 staff member Henry Talbot giving a presentation at the Christchurch screeningHigh 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 Acting Information Unit Manager Michelle Baker, including an overview of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. They also learned about the process followed by Classification Officers ('censors') when classifying films, video games, and other publications.

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

Classification Office staff member Michelle Baker giving a presentation at the Wellington screeningAfter watching the film, the students completed a classification form with guidance from an Information Unit Advisor and decided on an appropriate classification. Michelle 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 them.

The film

Dope movie poster

Dope is classified R16 in New Zealand with the descriptive note 'violence, offensive language, drug use and sexual material'. The film follows Malcolm and his two best friends, Diggy and Jib, in the final year of high school. The friends are high achievers, in a punk band, and obsessed with 90s hip hop culture. They are also repeatedly bullied by local thugs. Malcolm inadvertently befriends local drug dealer Dom, acting as a messenger between Dom and love interest Nakia. After a police raid at Dom's birthday party, Malcolm ends up with a backpack full of MDMA and hijinks ensue.

Essentially a caper movie, Dope defies the wearisome social realism that is often used to depict lives at the bottom of the social ladder. The script is verbally smart and the various contrivances and tangles of the plot are amusingly played out.

John Bleasdale, CineVue

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 Dope deals with crime, offensive language, violence, sex and dangerous imitable conduct, almost all students (98%) 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).

A majority (77%) of the students decided the film should be classified R16, followed by R15 (10%) and RP16 (6%). Two percent of students opted for the unrestricted M classification (suitable for mature audiences 16 years and over).

Chart showing classification chosen by students: R18 0%, R16 77%, R15 10%, R13 4%, RP16 6%, RP13 1%, M 2%, PG 0%
* One person chose R18
** One person chose PG

Choosing a classification

Students at the screening in Christchurch with their hands raised, indicating that they chose the R16 classificationStudents 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 labelOne student chose the R18 classification:

The film shows an intelligent boy who in the end sells drugs and doesn't get caught. It shows partying in a way that young people would want to party like this too, which is not good because New Zealand already has a massive drug and alcohol problem.

Student from Dunedin

R16 - restricted to people 16 years and over

R16 classification labelA majority (77%) of students classified the film R16. Students who chose R16 did so for a variety of reasons. The most common harms identified related to drug use/crime, offensive language, violence and sexual material: 

The message is important but the casual way the film deals with drugs, violence, sex and crime almost normalise it and youths are really impressionable and need to have a solid sense of right and wrong before watching this film and films like this.

Student from Wellington

People under the age of 16 could easily be influenced by the drug content, there were parts that glamorised the act of taking harmful drugs and the characters in the film got away with selling and dealing drugs and also made a profit. To anyone under 16 this could be seen as realistic and beneficial behaviour and could influence them to recreate this plotline which would be extremely harmful.

Student from Nelson

I believe it is an R16 because it shows explicit use of drugs, has sexual references and has violence. People under the age of 16 could be at harm if they see this, in particular the drug use and organised crime as this could negatively influence them to repeat these actions and cause harm to themselves, thus I believe by restricting the audience we are saving young children/teenagers from explicit content. Because it is keeping people safe, it is a reasonable limitation on people's freedom of expression.

Student from Dunedin

This film objectifies women and glamorises crimes giving the idea that actions don't have consequences. The language is offensive and some characters carry out actions which dehumanise, degrade and demean themselves or others. If actions that were conducted in the film were imitated, individuals may be putting themselves at risk. However, the entire film is portrayed in a comedic and light-hearted way and suggests these things are clearly wrong. Those who are old enough to pick up on this should be able to watch this film without harm.

Student from Dunedin

Crime: as the outcomes of those who break the law are anticipated to be positive there may be harm to younger people, as they see incentive to break the law for success. Violence: gun use and killing may harm younger members of the audience as there is potential for shock or nightmares. Nudity in the film is depicted in a sexual manner and references made sexually may give naive members of the audience harmful messages about sex.

Student from Christchurch

R15 - restricted to people 15 years and over

R15 classification labelThe R15 classification was chosen by 10% of students. A number of students indicated that the film's artistic, social and educational merit warranted a lower classification so more people could see the film; others decided on R15 to maximise people's freedom to view content (under the Bill of Rights Act) while still protecting young people from harm: 

It contains merit to youth so it's important that youth have the potential to exploit the message in the film. Yet the classification sets up viewers to be aware the themes are highly mature.

Student from Wellington

I chose R15 because I believe the message of the film is important for youth to see, just not people who are too young to fully grasp the concepts within.

Student from Nelson

Because of the Bill of Rights Act, we must go with the lowest possible classification, but it's not tame enough to be R13.

Student from Dunedin

This film contains many harmful themes and ideas that I believe could harm people under the age of 15. I would have chosen the more common R16 however I think the film has ideas that would be important for youth (15 up) to see and understand more in depth.

Student from Christchurch

R13 - restricted to people 13 years and over

R13 classification labelR13 was chosen by 4% of students. Those classifying the film R13 were also concerned with crime, offensive language, violence and sexual material, but felt that younger teenagers would not be harmed by this material: 

The film contains a lot of crime, with no negative overall impact for the main character which could encourage younger people to participate in similar activities. There is also a lot of sexualising of women which could potentially be dangerous, particularly for young children.

Student from Wellington

While this shows some sexual references and nudity, crime etc, the film has value in its moral and the extent of the violence is low and more discreet, less blood etc than R16 which is why I think it's suited to R13. The use of language is bad but not bad enough to restrict people's rights to information (Bill Of Rights Act).

Student from Wellington

The themes are not shown graphically so the restricted classification doesn't need to be higher than 13.

Student from Nelson

Younger people are more impressionable and they may be subject to harm after watching a film including drug abuse and violence. If they imitate the actions portrayed in the film they may harm themselves and the greater community. But it also includes quite good artistic, cultural and social merit which is why I think more people should be able to see it.

Student from Dunedin

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

RP16 classification labelThree percent of students chose either RP16 or RP13. Students acknowledged that some content in the film could be harmful to younger people but that having a parent or guardian present would lessen this harm. Some felt this partial restriction was warranted because of the film's artistic merit:

RP13 classification label

Even though the film does focus on drugs, I think young people should still be able to watch it as it has a strong moral that more people need to be aware of. If someone is watching with a parent or guardian, it lowers the risks of young people misunderstanding or misinterpreting certain things because someone older who's a lot more aware is able to make clear anything that could potentially be misconstrued.

Students from Wellington

The film does contain violence, sexual references and language which brings the classification to 16 and up, but I believe the film should be RP16 because it could be a great film for a younger audience to view due to educational purposes.

Student from Christchurch

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

M classification labelThe 2% 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. A number of students emphasised the film's merit, and noted that it was unlikely to appeal to children even if unrestricted: 

There was violence but very minimal also some nudity but if you're mature enough it wouldn't affect you in any way. There was crime but it wasn't represented in a very bad way. Any age could see this and not get harmed, but maturity is important.

Student from Nelson

There are a lot of themes in this film that would be deemed harmful but the nature in which they are presented delivers a message to the younger community. They are not promoted but are shown in a way that would deliver an important message to youth.

Student from Dunedin

The way society is currently, youth are fully aware of drugs and the dangers/consequences that follow with associating yourself with these types of things. So why restrict it when it's already common knowledge, especially when a movie like Dope is promoting under-privileged youth to strive for excellence and do the right thing.

Student from Christchurch

Classification by gender and age

Female students tended to assign slightly more restrictive classifications overall. Females were more likely to choose the R16 classification and males more likely to choose M, RP16 or R13.

More female students (56%) attended the events than males (43%). Some students did not identify as male or female.

The majority of participants (74%) were 17 years old. Students aged 18 were more likely to assign an R16 classification (80%) than were 17 year-olds (76%) or 16 year-olds (73%). Students aged 16 were more likely to classify the film RP16 (10%) than 17 year-olds (6%) or 18 year-olds (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.

Almost all students agreed that Dope contained crime, offensive language, violence and sexual material, and a majority thought the film contained conduct that would be dangerous if imitated by a child or young person. A minority of students thought the film contained degrading, demeaning or dehumanising physical conduct (25%) and cruelty (16%).

Chart showing what percentage of students agreed that the film included the following: Crime 100%, Offensive language 100%, Violence 99%, Sex 95%, Dangerous imitable conduct 70%, Degrading/demeaning conduct 25%, Cruelty 16%, Self harm/suicide 2%, Horror 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 due to its treatment of crime, violence, sexual material 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:

Dope is a well-crafted independent coming-of-age teen comedy. It features an idiosyncratic saturation of 90s hip hop, modern tech referencing, a young black cast, and a variety of themes that will resonate with contemporary youth. The film's direction, stylisation and actors' performances are all highly commendable. It intelligently deals with issues of race, class struggle, and sexuality.

The FVPC Act requires that if a publication's availability is likely to cause injury to the public good, it must be restricted. Although targeted at teenagers, the film's drug dealing focus which incorporates instructive elements, presents a skewed worldview likely to be inappropriately normalised by younger viewers who lack the maturity and experience to discern between reality and fiction. This combined with the sexual material, violence and other mature content reinforces the need for a restriction in order to avoid the harmful impact premature exposure to such depictions is likely to have on them.

The inspirational nature of the film as well as the positive messaging in respect of identity and identity politics makes it highly suitable for older teenagers, who have the cognitive faculties their younger peers lack. To restrict the publication from them would be an undue burden on the right to freedom of expression. The film is thus classified objectionable except if the availability of the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 16 years.

Classification Office written decision, May 2015

Classification Office's R16 classification decision for Dope (PDF, 129KB)

Classification criteria considered by students

A still image from the film of packaged drugs being weighed


All students thought the film contained crime. Depictions of criminal activity included: drug use and selling and preparing drugs, computer hacking, use of weapons to threat, harm or kill, underage drinking, driving under the influence, blackmail. Students agreed that criminal activity was depicted throughout the film and that drug use and violent crime in particular could have a high impact on viewers. Many thought that the use of drugs was glamorised, or that serious consequences were not shown, however many other students disagreed with this. Some thought the preparation and selling of drugs could be considered instructional.

A still image from the film of Diggy having just hit Will for using the N-word

Offensive language

All students thought the film contained offensive language. Offensive words were used throughout the film, but students recognised that this was usually in a conversational manner which accurately reflected how the characters would speak to one another. Many 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. Students felt that, for more mature viewers, the language would not have a particularly high impact.

A still image from the film of an armed holdup in a diner


Most students (99%) thought the film contained violence. This ranged from bullying to beatings and gun violence causing death. Students generally thought that violence was not throughout the film, and that depictions of violence were fleeting and not particularly graphic. Students generally considered the violence to be of moderate impact, and that violence was not glamorised or encouraged in the film.

A still image from the film of an alluring young woman (Lily) in a swimming pool


Most students (95%) thought the film contained sexual material, but did not contain actual sex scenes. Rather, it contained some depictions of masturbation, some brief sexual conduct, and also people talking about sex a number of times. Many mentioned the sexualised nudity of one character, and thought that this sexualisation could have a harmful influence on how young people (particularly boys) viewed women and girls. Overall, the sexual material was not considered to be of particularly high impact.

A still image from the film of stoner/hacker Will Sherwood with pills on his tongue

Conduct that, if imitated, would pose a risk of serious harm to a child or young person

Most students (70%) thought the film contained conduct that would be dangerous if imitated by a child or young person. Most of these students indicated that drug use and selling of drugs could be imitated by young people. Others mentioned weapon use, underage drinking, casual sex with a stranger, and blackmail.

A still image from the film of Malcolm masturbating while looking at his smartphone

Physical conduct that is degrading, demeaning or dehumanising

A quarter of students (25%) thought the film contained degrading, demeaning or dehumanising physical conduct. Students most commonly mentioned a scene where one character urinates in public under the influence of drugs (where video of the event is subsequently posted online). Many thought the overall depiction of this character as a sexually promiscuous drug addict could be considered degrading and demeaning. Other things mentioned were physical bullying, the use of drugs by partygoers, and a scene where someone masturbates while looking at someone's profile picture.

The descriptive note

Descriptive notes inform the public about content within a film which may concern them. The descriptive note for Dope informs potential viewers that the film contains 'violence, offensive language, drug use and sexual material'. When students were asked what descriptive note they thought the film should have, most noted 'violence' (83%), 'offensive language' (78%), 'drug use/references' (72%), and 'sexual content/references' (60%).

Chart showing what students thought the descriptive note should include: Violence 83%, Offensive language 78%, Drug use/references 72%, Sexual content/references 60%, Nudity 47%, Crime 17%, Adult/mature themes 8%


Students were asked who they thought was the intended or likely audience for the film. The majority of students thought that older teenagers and young adults were the target audience for Dope. Most thought the film was aimed at both genders, however some thought it was aimed more at males. Some also mentioned fans of hip hop music/culture.

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/drama or independent film. Overall, students tended to think the film was enjoyable, funny and engaging and would leave the audience in a good mood. Many also said the film would leave the audience in a thoughtful mood, considering the themes dealt with in the film such as racism, stereotypes and socio-economic disparities.

The audience that I think would suit it would enjoy it a lot. I know me and my peers did.

Student from Wellington

A comedy/drama intended to entertain but also ultimately enlightening.

Student from Wellington

I think the audience will feel empowered and entertained and maybe a bit thoughtful.

Student from Christchurch

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.

Most students (96%) thought the film had merit. When asked to specify what kind of merit or value the film had, students often referred to the film's artistic, social, cultural and educational merit:

It has merit due to its representation of diversity. The majority of the cast are not white and one of the main characters is a part of the LGBT community. In most media this diversity in cast is not present.

Student from Wellington

It helps to show the harsh realities of racism and prejudice whilst keeping a light tone. It offers a relatable perspective on hard to talk about issues.

Student from Wellington

It shines a light on the lives of those in a minority group and exposes the flaws and struggles of living in 'the hood'.

Student from Nelson

It outlines the racial discrimination and generalisations that people have about black people who come from poor backgrounds, and makes people question how little opportunities they get compared to the average white person.

Student from Dunedin

Impact of the medium

Students were asked to think about the impact of viewing Dope 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 (54%) thought that viewing the film on different formats would not change the impact of the film. Other students (46%) 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:

Yes I think it had a different impact by watching it at the cinema - some scenes were made uncomfortable because others were around, darkness and large screen made it easier to focus on the movie.

Student from Wellington

We pay more attention at the cinema. Fewer distractions which means we have a deeper understanding of the message.

Student from Wellington

In a big cinema it can be seen as more comedic rather than serious, because other people's laughter influences you to laugh too.

Student from Dunedin


We would like to thank Sony Pictures. Without distributors' generosity in lending us a pre-release film, Censor for a Day would not be possible.

Classification forms on theatre seats ready to be filled out by students

We would also like to thank the cinema managers, projectionists and other staff at Event Cinemas Queensgate in Lower Hutt, State Cinemas in Nelson, Reading Cinemas in Dunedin, and Hoyts Riccarton in Christchurch. Cinema staff provided us with excellent service and ensured the events ran smoothly.

Lastly we would like to thank the students and teachers from the South Island and the Wellington region 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!

Dope movie poster

A liberating, full-throttle comedy not about the ethics of selling drugs, but about the ability of one smart black kid to do the math, and reconfigure Dope into a slippery slope of hope.

Dann Gire, Chicago Daily Herald

Useful links

Stills from the film

A still image from the film of 3 young people - Jib, Diggy and Malcolm - standing with their bikes
Best mates Jib (Tony Revolori), Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), and Malcolm (Shameik Moore)
A still image from the film of Malcolm lying on his back on his bed, looking dreamily up at the ceiling
Malcolm has a dream
A still image from the film of the punk band in action
Malcolm, Jib and Diggy's punk rock band, Awreeoh
A still image from the film of a group of young men in a club
Local drug dealer Dom (Rakim Mayers) and his crew


R16 classification label
R16: violence, offensive language, drug use and sexual material


A legal statement about who can have accss 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'.
The definition of 'publication' includes a number of things, such as film, DVDs, books, video games, sound recordings and computer files.