Film is a unique medium with which to exercise artistic expression. Films can be used to capture reality, to create fantasy worlds, or to explore the infinite options in between. They go beyond photography by adding sound and movement. They are able to break the boundaries of theater with special effects, on-location shots, or camera tricks. This medium, especially with developing technology, offers a multitude of possibilities for a filmmaker to make a statement.
The movie industry straddles the space between visual art and entertainment and has situated itself prominently as a relatively inexpensive and convenient leisure activity. Perhaps it is this accessibility that worries those seeking to prevent certain images or messages from being disseminated to the public. Attempts to censor films most often arise over scenes involving sexual activity, nudity, violence, or religiously sensitive statements. Individuals or groups who wish to halt the presentation certain films (or remove certain kinds of content from them) believe that in one way or another, these types of images are inappropriate for audiences. Such censorious activity usually takes place on a private level, with theater managers refusing to screen a film or specialty interest groups protesting and applying pressure on administrators to take action. To these groups, movie ratings giving general guidelines about the age-appropriateness of a film are not sufficient. They believe that the film must not be shown at all or the offensive material must be removed.
Although regarded as a form of entertainment, movies are still a protected form of speech under the First Amendment. A filmmaker has the same right as a painter, writer, or musician to express a message. Removing or editing the film amounts to an inappropriate stifling of protected speech.
Below are several examples of movies that have incited controversy and some resources for more information, including the Motion Picture Association of America’s web page where official information on the U.S.’s voluntary movie rating system can be found.
- A Brief History of Film Censorship
- Cut, Censored, Banned: NCAC’s Top 40 Film Picks
- A Brief History of the Censored Oscars