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BBFC set to get tougher on screen depictions of sexual violence

Don't Breathe

Story by Jack Foley

THE British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) looks set to clamp down harder on films containing scenes of rape or sexual violence.

The move could see any film containing such scenes being awarded an automatic 18 certificate, as opposed to the 15 certificate that several recent releases have been given.

The move was touted by BBFC director David Austin during a keynote speech at a conference organised by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), in which he revealed the results from the organisation’s five-yearly public consultation on what is and isn’t deemed acceptable by audiences for certification.

Hence, as part of the consultation, members of the public were asked to evaluate the BBFC’s decision on a number of films that included ‘sexual or sexualised violence’ that were given a 15 certificate. Over the past year and a half, these included the titles Don’t Breathe, which contains several scenes of a sadistic sexual nature; Wind River, a “crime western” written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, and The Innocents, a French-made drama about brutalised nuns during the Second World War, directed by Anne Fontaine.

In a statement given to The Guardian newspaper, the BBFC said that a number of the films “might have been more appropriately restricted to 18”.

It continues: “It is premature to say what adjustments might finally be made to [our] guidelines but it is certainly fair to say that the [research] suggests heightened public concerns about the issue of sexual violence and some desire for a further tightening of our already strict standards at 15.”

At present, the BBFC’s guidelines state: “Any depiction of sadistic or sexual violence which is likely to pose a harm risk, will be subject to intervention through classification, cuts or even, as a last resort, a refusal to classify.”

Films with a 12A certificate may contain sexual violence that is “implied or briefly and discreetly indicated, and its depiction must be justified by context”, while in a 15-certificate “there may be detailed verbal references to sexual violence but the depiction of sexual violence must be discreet and justified by context”.

However, when reviewing last year’s otherwise excellent Wind River, IndieLondon’s Rob Carnevale noted: “It’s just a shame that Sheridan’s direction lets itself down in one key moment, which is his decision to belatedly show the actual rape and murder itself. For a writer of Sheridan’s quality, who has already gone to great lengths to convey how brutal the crime was, the inclusion of such an extended scene feels cheap and unnecessary.

Indeed, it raises its own questions about the current need for both TV and film to show violence at its most extreme, especially that which is directed towards women (and even more so if it’s of a sexual nature). Wind River would have been no less effective for having left the act of the crime itself to viewers’ imaginations.”

The BBFC is now undergoing the second stage of its consultation process, during which it will survey around 10,000 members of the public.