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PEOPLE & THINGS: Moral watchdogs?

Peter Wickham

PEOPLE & THINGS: Moral watchdogs?

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The banning and subsequent reversal of Oscar-nominated film Black Swan should prompt a national discussion on the relevance of this antiquated body known as the Film Censorship Board.
As I understand it, this board is mandated by law; its members are nominated by the Minister of Culture and these are drawn from a cross-section of societal interests, which in this instance includes at least one Christian and one Muslim.
These people are mandated to preview movies that are to be screened locally and they have the option to either restrict viewing or ban movies altogether.
Ironically, the same state also owns a television station that broadcasts all manner of nudity, sex and gratuitous violence (on MCTV) without reference to any censor.
Two issues arise which relate to the specific act of banning Black Swan and the more general issue of the illogic of our approach to film censorship in 2011.
Turning first to the latter issue, one can appreciate the need to establish some type of ratings system to regulate the type of material that young and impressionable eyes might come upon at the movie cinema.
The state clearly has a responsibility to patrol the public domain in the interest of enforcing culturally defined standards of decency and should not dodge this responsibility.
In pursuit of its mission, however, one needs to ask whether we have adopted an effective mechanism since a 15-year-old can theoretically rent and watch a movie which has been restricted or banned locally, and in so doing would not have broken any laws.
Certainly the appropriate response would be for us to “beef” up our regulatory mechanism to cope with all these new challenges.
However, those among us who are realistic appreciate the immense difficulty involved here and agree that a small developing nation simply does not have the resources to police this industry properly.
The juxtaposition of the need to regulate with the degree of difficulty involved in such regulation supports the adoption of an alternative method, which would be exploitation of a mechanism that is already in place and relies on the good offices of a friendly state.
Reference is of course made here to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) which has a complex rating system that is well articulated and funded well enough to embrace the numbers of movies that are screened locally.
Ironically, most movies that are shown here have already been previewed by associations like the MPAA or its British counterpart the British Board of Film Classification, and one wonders why we are hesitant to rely more heavily on their assessment.
Turning now to the other aspect of this issue which is the specific case of Black Swan, I, like others across Barbados, was stunned to hear that this film was banned and only now that it has been reclassified have we heard that the ban was imposed because of apparent “homoeroticism”.
It is clear that some member or members of the board viewed the two-minute lesbian scene and deemed this unsuitable for the eyes of Barbadians of all ages.  
This thinking is curious since same-sex scenes are now quite common in motion pictures and movies like Brokeback Mountain, which was an entire gay love story and was able to get past the board in 2005.
One appreciates that the board membership was different then, but if we view the two incidents laterally, one is left to conclude that it is okay for the Barbadian public to see two men “making out” but should not see two women doing the same thing.
If instead the board was to argue that the 2005 board made an error and it believes that all homosexual interaction is improper for Barbadians eyes, I would also have some difficulties since this board has already approved for viewing with appropriate restrictions movies with generous helpings of gratuitous violence, along with strong language, full frontal nudity and sex scenes that I would not want to watch in the presence of my mother.  
Presumably this thinking is predicated on the assumption that we need to protect this society from some influences and while I have difficulties with this argument generally, there is a specific contradiction that troubles.
This was highlighted by no less a person than Tony Blair during the British debates that lowered the age of consent for same-sex relations to 16.
In 1994 he said: “People are entitled to think that homosexuality is wrong, but they are not entitled to use the criminal law to force that view upon others . . . . A society that has learned, over time, racial and sexual equality can surely come to terms with equality of sexuality.”
In this regard I would borrow from him and argue that any board member who is privately opposed to this homosexual scene is so entitled, but should not abuse their privilege to force their views on others, since freedom of expression does to some extent mean the right to chose one’s genre of entertainment.