The history of cinema is a history of battles to bring fresh ideas to the screen and to represent life as it actually is, with all its rough edges. Historically censors have come down hard on themes like sex – almost costing us classics like Blue Velvet and Some Like It Hot – and violence – threatening the likes of A Streetcar Named Desire, Psycho and Scarface. Drug use has been a big issue in many places, with India only recently beginning to allow its depiction even in clearly anti-drug films , while some countries continue to ban films for blasphemy on a frequent basis, even if it seems bizarre now that Life Of Brian was affected by such objections in the UK. Some films, however, have been censored for stranger reasons, and this week we’re shining our spotlight in their direction. Try looking at the titles first and seeing if you can guess what it was about them that caused offence.
Gremlins - Sky Cinema, Vigin TV Go, Amazon
Today this may be fondly remembered as a high spirited Eighties monster comedy, but at the time of released, UK censors deemed it too frightening for children to see. This, of course, provoked a flurry of excitement amongst younger would-be viewers, with rumours flying around which wildly exaggerated key scenes, and sales of merchandise went through the roof. Some of the cited concerns were very strange – jacking up the motor speed on a stairlift would require an unlikely level of skill for a child – but the oddest thing was the failure to recognise what little monsters kids can be themselves.
Sicko - Virgin TV Go, Amazon, Chili
Michael Moore’s polemical dissection of the problems with the US healthcare system had a relatively easy ride in its home country, having been thoroughly checked over by lawyers prior to release, but it fell foul of censors in Cuba for a reason you might not expect: it made that country’s healthcare system look too good. By flattering and, reportedly, exaggerating numerous aspects of what it had to offer in order to provide a contrast with the state of play in the US, the film risked raising unreasonable expectations amongst Cubans themselves.
Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times
Modern Times - Apple TV
The Nazis weren’t known for their liberal attitude to the arts but even for them, banning Charlie Chaplin’s delightful slapstick satire about life in an industrialised workplace for promoting Communism – when even the Americans were cool with it – was a bit of a stretch. The more likely reason why Germans at the time were not allowed to see it was Adolf Hitler’s personal resentment of the popular comedian, whose impressions of him reportedly caused him great distress and have a lingering effect to this day. The film remains as entertaining as ever.
The Simpsons Movie
The Simpsons Movie - Disney+, Virgin TV Go, Chili
It took 18 years for Homer and family to make it to the big screen, and fun though it is to watch their misadventures as he inadvertently pollutes Springfield’s water supply and the town is subsequently enclosed in a protective dome, it’s understandable that some people got overexcited to the point of inevitable disappointment. That, however, is not what got it banned in Burma. The issue was one which the animators could not have anticipated: too much use of the colour yellow next to the colour red. This was associated with rebel groups in the country and it was feared that the film could incite unrest.
Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan
Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan - Disney+, Amazon Prime
It’s not difficult to see why Kazakhstani officials objected to Sacha Baron Cohen’s portrayal of a delinquent peasant from a place with a primitive attitude to women and a somewhat overenthusiastic attitude to getting cosy with members of other species. This is one censorship story with a twist, however, as they changed their tune when they realised the enormous boost the film had given to their tourist industry, and when Kazakhstani citizens began going to great lengths to get access to it, making it an underground hit. Most agreed that the US was the main target of its satire anyway.
2012 - Virgin TV Go, Chili, Apple TV
From dodgy politics to dodgier CGI, this film has plenty to apologise for, but most people who go to see it view it simply as an entertaining disaster movie, so why would anyone bother to ban it? Did it destroy one famous monument too many? Did people feel bad about Los Angeles sliding into the sea? No. The issue – for North Koreans – was that the year 2012 happened to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of their Great Leader, so suggesting that bad things might happen then was tantamount to blasphemy. Of course, this made illegal DVD copies highly prized.
Ghostbusters - Netflix, Virgin TV Go, Chili
Remakes always attract criticism and taking on a much-loved genre story with an all female cast was always going to stir up resentment, even though most people who saw this film loved it. That wasn’t the reason why the spook-zapping team lost their biggest potential market, however. Instead, the film drew down the wrather of the Chinese censors because it was seen as promoting cults and superstitions. Though an effort was made to evade the ban by renaming it Super Power Dare-to-Die Team, to date most residents of the country have only been able to access bootleg copies and have missed out on seeing it on the big screen.