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Contains nudity: nakedness and the Classification Act

Posted on 22 July 2014 by Henry

Does nudity offend you? It offends a lot of New Zealanders, but it might surprise you to learn that we can't restrict something for nudity alone. We can only restrict or ban something using the classification criteria within the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993.

In passing the Classification Act, the New Zealand Parliament decided that people's freedom to view or read something should only be restricted if there is a likelihood of harm to society - and something that's offensive isn't necessarily harmful*.

Could something be classified G if it has nudity but no sex, horror, crime, cruelty, or violence?

Yes, but films, games, or other publications with naked people are more often for mature audiences, and so an unrestricted classification such as PG (parental guidance recommended for younger viewers) or M (suitable for mature audiences 16 years and over) is more likely.

Why is there a 'contains nudity' descriptive note?

Some people find nudity concerning or upsetting and like to be warned about it. Having said that, nudity won't always be flagged in a descriptive note - particularly for a restricted publication. Some recent films classified M with a descriptive note 'nudity' are The Great Beauty, Ursula's Victory, and Goodbye, First Love.

Is the way we classify nudity unusual?

Not particularly. In Australia, nudity in films can in principle appear at any classification level so long as it is justified by context, and 'nudity with no sexual context' is treated similarly in the UK. The American MPAA's rating system is generally more restrictive of anything involving sex or nudity, and they've recently been in the news for clamping down on film posters which show a bit too much skin (see MPAA bans Zero Theorem poster thanks to Christoph Waltz's bare butt and MPAA rules against risqué Sin City 2 poster featuring Eva Green).

Our website has information about the classification criteria if you'd like to learn more.

* NB: 2005 amendments to the Classification Act clarified that images of nude children or young people can be restricted or banned if they are 'reasonably capable of being regarded as sexual in nature'.

Henry works in the Information Unit at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. The Information Unit provides information to other staff, to the public, and to industry members - they are not involved in assigning classifications. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

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