Posted in essay

The Censorship of Film (April 2004)

The Production Code Censorship:

After the 1920s, the studios installed a production code to protect themselves from more scandals, like the ones that overrun them in the decade before. This production code was also reinforced by the outcry of the people who had more publicity.

Another way the studios ruled the lives of those working in Hollywood was the installment of the Production code. The production code was set in place in the early thirties to counter the damage caused by the many scandals in the industry during the twenties. It lasted until 1967 and was the last hold the studios had over the film industry. It affected the screenwriters and directors more so then the actors as it affected the content of the films. It also affected public viewers of the films as it chose for them what they should see and what they should not see. Unlike today, they were not given the right to choose what they considered good entertainment, but instead of what studios considered to be morally correct for them. The code restricted how much a person could show of certain things such as words and actions as well as whether or not those things could be shown.

Certain actions were not allowed on screen like criminal activity and immoral actions unless they were essential to the plot. A person could not put something criminal or immoral in a positive light. A popular movie such as Pretty Woman would not have been allowed simply because it showed prostitution in a more positive light then was accepted. According to the code “the methods and techniques of prostitution …shall never be presented in detail nor shall the subjects be presented unless shown in a contrast to the right standards of behavior” (Hayes). While some of the code was acceptable, many of the rules were very strict on what could be shown and what could not be. There could not be a grey area; good and evil must be defined. Not even cartoons were exempt from the code and cartoons such as Betty Boop were faded out due to their more mature content (“Betty Boop”). The studios decided for the population of America what exactly their moral stance was.

They also decided what their feelings towards racism and other factors would be.
The production code also discriminated against race and sexual orientation. Homosexual or biracial relationships were not tolerated by the code (“Betty Boop”). The man who influenced the code makers greatly, Joseph Breen, was actually anti-Semitic and thought the Jewish executives of the studios were a threat (Eskenazi). Breen also founded an organization which claimed affiliation with the Catholic Church which would pout in the paper a list of films that would tell the readers which films were acceptable to watch and which were not. This appear greatly influenced the people who went to see the movies (Jadloweic).

The code changed many times although not by much and was still in place by the late sixties. The current rating systems replaced it and gave the film industry more flexibility as well as give the public more choices and a chance to choose what their beliefs and standards were.

The code was taken for many reasons. There were moral chances since the code was put in as well as a Supreme Court decision that the code was infringing on the freedom of speech. The code did not allow the writers the freedom of choosing what to write in their films and the public was not allowed to make their own moral decision regarding the films content. The fall of the production code and the studio system marked the end of what was considered the “Golden Age” of Hollywood.

Modern Censorship for Films:

The modern system of rating movies did not start out as it is currently. When Jack Valenti took over the MPAA in 1966, the production code was still in place. He found fault in the work and wanted to get rid of it at the most opportune moment. This came in 1969 after a Supreme Court decision in April showed that a parent should be warned as to what was in the films their children watched. He brought before the MPAA, NATO, and IFEA the idea of rating system.

That fall, the rating system went into place. It was not the version we see today. The ratings were as follows:

G: General Admission
M: Mature – Parental Guidance needed
R: Restricted – No children allowed without Parent.
X: No one allowed under the age of Seventeen

After awhile it became noticeable that people were confused about the system. Some even considered M a worse rating then R. X also had by this point had gotten to be thought of as the rating for “obscene and pornographic” films. This was not the original intent at all. So they changed the M rating in 1984 to the following:

GP: Guidance by Parents suggested.
PG: Parental Guidance suggested (a revised form of GP)
PG-13: Parental Guidance for children under the age of 13

In 1990 they finally decided to change the X rating since it was confusing many parents as to what the rating pertained to. Even now many people believe that the X rating is meant to ay that the film has pornographic elements. However, that was not true. They threw out the X rating (which was the only one they never copyrighted) and instated the NC-17 rating we know now.

Current Ratings:

G: General Admission
PG: Parental Guidance suggested
PG-13: Parental Guidance Suggested for Children Younger Then 13
R: Restricted Audience. No children under 17 can enter without a parent or guardian with them
NC-17: No Children under 17


Trailers are also rated. When you go to a movie you generally see the green trailers, which say the trailer is suitable for all ages. There is another version showed at only R and NC-17 films. At the start of this restricted audience trailer, it is red instead of the normal green.

For more information on the current ratings please visit the Official Motion Picture Association website.

Editors Notes: a good majority of the text under the Production code section of this essay/article was taken from “The Dark Side of Hollywood”, a report which can also be found on this journal. However all the modern censorship information was new when written. Information about the Modern Rating system may be out of date because it has been four years since the creation of this article/essay.

In the future, this and the other related film essays may be updated with more recent sources.


A thirty-something Graphic Designer and writer who likes to blog about books, movies and History.

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