The Classification of Films in Britain Needs a Re-think

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (an adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner's semi-autobiographical novel, directed by Marielle Heller), is a genuine, insightful and entertaining coming of age drama all about a 15 year old girl's sexual awakening and affair with her mother's boyfriend, who is 20 years her senior. The film was rated 18 by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) because of its "strong sex", completely failing to mention the heavy drug use or strong language and seemingly completely failing to grasp the purpose, need or relevance of the film and its characters.

Marshland (directed by Alberto Rodriguez) however, received a 15 age rating because of its "strong language, violence, injury detail, references to sexual violence". Set in the 'democratic' Spain post-Franco, it's about two homicide detectives' attempt to catch a serial murderer whose latest victims are two sisters aged 15 and 17, who he raped and tortured before dumping their bodies in the marshes on the outskirts of a rural town. Which of these films sounds the most brutal and uncomfortable to watch?

Apparently, nudity and genuine passion is more inappropriate than graphic detail of mutilated bodies and violence. You have to be a fully fledged adult to watch two consenting actors doing one of the most natural things in the world, an action that's legal once you reach 16 years of age; yet according to the BBFC you can be younger than that and sit through nearly two hours of grown men talking about the drugging and raping of girls of a similar age to the film's classification.

Occasionally, the reasons behind a film's age rating are laughable: Monsters University was rated U because of its 'mild slapstick and comic threat'. What?? The recently re-imagined Fantastic Four, an action film, was generously given a 12A rating due to its 'moderate violence and brief bloody moments'.

But what's not laughable is that, despite an appeal, the intended audience of The Diary of a Teenage Girl - teens like the film's protagonist Minnie Goetze - were blocked from watching it in cinemas because a panel of men perhaps misinterpreted (or missed entirely) the purpose of depicting teenage girl's development of our sense of 'self' and sex drive in its earliest stages in a way that's never been fully confronted on screen before. Young girls can watch dark and brutal films like Marshland, that is actually solid and well-formed despite the tone of this post, but not films that admirably attempt to reinvigorate the inclusion of young people in discussions about sexuality.


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