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Raising the curtain on Censor for a Day

Posted on 10 May 2021 by Georgia

Over the last few years our office has engaged with hundreds of rangatahi through our nationwide Censor for a Day programme. What’s involved? What do we screen? We invite senior Media Studies students to a local cinema and walk them through the legislated criteria used to classify films, games, books and other publications. They watch a pre-release film, enjoy a free lunch, and participate in discussions and exercises to think critically about entertainment media. These engagements have included thought provoking korero about censorship and our classification criteria. Here are a few of the shared experiences from recent years.

“I was a bit overwhelmed at the immense power of hatred”—student feedback at the BlacKkKlansman screening

The 2018 screening of BlacKkKlansman and the 2021 screening of Judas and the Black Messiah prompted ardent discussions about race and police brutality. Both films are set during the 60s and 70s, and depict violence and racism perpetrated by police officers. Many students identified that these themes parallel the police force’s violent treatment of black people in the USA today. However, the students noted that both films carefully use these racist and discriminatory attitudes to illuminate and educate audiences about the existing threat of police brutality and extremist views.

In 2019 we screened the film Mid90s, an edgy coming-of-age comedy-drama film about a group of young skateboarders living in 1990’s Los Angeles. The conversations we had about self-harm resulted in a change to the descriptive note. The film’s main character, Stevie, is briefly depicted punching himself in the chest, scraping himself with a hairbrush, and strangling himself with a Gameboy cord. Students explained that while the depictions of self-harm weren’t typically portrayed in mainstream media, they still had a strong impact on viewers. A majority of our audiences felt that the self-harm could be “triggering” – depending on a viewer’s emotional state – and recommended a warning note for this. We took their advice and added it to our warning label.

In 2019 Porirua students watched the film Hotel Mumbai, a biographical thriller that follows the 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, India. Most students felt that the elements of violence and cruelty were the most impactful in the film. This led to an insightful discussion about what extent of violence should be depicted when it represents a real-life event. 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.

Unfortunately the Hotel Mumbai event took place on the same day as the Christchurch mosque shooting. We only became aware of this tragedy after the C4AD event had finished. We followed up with teachers to ensure the students were okay, 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.

The 2018 screening of Blockers was a more light-hearted affair. The comedy explores teen sexuality and students enjoyed discussing the positive representations of interracial relationships, and LGBTQI characters, as well as positive messaging about consent and healthy relationships. The students described the sexual material as "explicit", but "not as bad as hard-core porn" and the overall consensus was that the film empowered young people to make their own decisions around sex and relationships. The students had some reservations around the film’s glamourised depictions of teenagers experimenting with illicit psychedelic drugs and alcohol, with little to no negative consequences.

“It was funny but awks when you're sitting next to a person who's the opposite sex”.— Student feedback at the Blockers screening

Censor for a Day always generates a rich conversation about how classification criteria should be applied to films, and the potential harms presented by some of the content. We always appreciate hearing the students feedback about how the work we do impacts on young people. If you’d like your school to participate in the Censor for a Day programme we have more information over here about how to get involved.

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