Here in the good ol’ United States of Truck Nutz, film ratings are controlled by a secretive, shady puppet of the major studios called the MPAA. Meaning that if you make a film with a big studio, they’ll work closely with you on whatever you need to get the rating you desire. And if you’re independent, they’ll just give you a rating without a great reason why. Which is how you get a PG-13 Wolverine that includes violence, sexual content, and F-bombs; and indie films with nary a boob, a swear, or blood getting an R. (All covered in a famous documentary, This Film is Not Yet Rated).
Meanwhile, over in the constitutional monarchy of porridge and hooligans, ratings are controlled by the British Board Of Film Classification. And judging by this letter they wrote to Edgar Wright about his delightful film The World’s End, they’re nothing if not both thorough and incredibly specific. The World’s End very much involves British pub culture, and if you’ve ever gone drinking with Brits, you know the drunk ones tend to throw around the old C-Word a little more liberally than Americans. So it was that Wright wrote to the BBFC seeking an allowance of no less than three C-Words, hoping he could get away with using them without getting an 18 certificate (the British R, basically).
From Edgar Wright’s website (I’ve changed the word from C to K to make it acceptable to your work filters):
From: Edgar Wright
To: Hammad Khan
Date: 19/10/2011 13:51
Subject: Hey there
Thanks for listening.
So basically, an easy question for you.
We are writing a script at the moment where the word ‘kunt’ appears several times with a comedic tone. All very much in a naturalistic, social context rather than an aggressive, threatening one.
I know that this word appeared once only in both ‘Shaun’ & ‘Hot Fuzz’, but is it the case that using the word more than once would push the film from a 15 to an 18?
Love to find out what the guidelines are. Thanks for any help on this one.
Unlike in the US, Wright actually gets to find out what the guidelines are before he’s finished the film. And when I say guidelines, I mean extremely specific guidelines.
On 20 Oct 2011, at 15:07, Craig Lapper wrote:
Dear Mr Wright,
Thank you for your email, which Hammad Khan has passed on to me.
The BBFC’s Guidelines at ’15′ state ‘The strongest terms (for example, ‘kunt’) may be acceptable if justified by the context. Aggressive or repeated use of the strongest language is unlikely to be acceptable’.
As a general rule, it is highly unusual for the BBFC to permit more than three or four uses of very strong language at ’15′ in a feature length work. In terms of context, it is more likely that we would pass throwaway, matter-of-fact, or comic uses than uses that are aggressive, personally directed, or accompanied by complicating factors such as violence, threat, racism, or a power imbalance (for example, male to female uses are more of a problem than the other way around). In an extreme case, even a single aggressive use can push a film to ’18′ (for example, if a man were hitting a woman and calling her a kunt, or a man of one race hitting a person of a different race and using very strong language in combination with racist terms). Similarly, putting several uses together in a very short space of time may breach the ‘repeated’ section of our Guidelines and cause problems at ’15′. It is generally better if uses are spread out somewhat.
As you say, we passed a single use in SHAUN OF THE DEAD because the use in question was throwaway, unthreatening, and essentially a term of endearment amongst friends (“Can I get any of you kunts a drink?”). In the case of HOT FUZZ we actually permitted two uses, one spoken and one written. First of all, we see the word ‘kunt’ on the list of prohibited terms on the swearbox in the police station and then we hear “What a kunt” when a man tells his friend about a man who sold drugs to kids. In the first case, the use was written (which reduces its impact) and of course lacked any aggression. In the second case, the use was not aggressive and was not personally directed but instead uttered about a person who is not present at the time.
So, the answer to your question is that it is possible to receive a ’15′ with three or four uses, provided they are not aggressive or threatening or complicated by any kind of power imbalance. However, it’s best not to concentrate them together into a short outburst and we’d certainly caution against more than three or four uses.
I hope that’s helpful to you.
In the end, The World’s End left its three kunts intact and won its 15 rating in the UK and Ireland. I consider it a victory for Edgar Wright, British teens, and kunts everywhere.
Of course, The World’s End is still rated R in the US, because our country was founded by Puritans, who were notoriously kuntish.
[See Also: The BBFC's equally specific ruling against The Human Centipede for its depiction of defecation and barbed wire rape. Picture via Getty/Shutterstock.]