One hundred years ago, film censorship was introduced to New Zealand, making it illegal to show any film without it first being passed by the Censor.
The 1916 Cinematograph Film Censorship Act was the government’s first attempt to restrict what New Zealanders could watch and hear in audiovisual media.
Actress Ngaire Porter holding a censorship sign at New Regent Theatre, Lower Hutt. Evening Post, 1958. Alexander Turnbull Library.
From 16 to 26 November, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision will mark the centenary with CENSORED – 100 Years of Film Censorship in NZ. The two week programme includes:
• films which were initially banned in New Zealand – Mad Max, The Wild One, All Quiet on the Western Front and Battleship Potemkin.
• a public panel discussion with the Chief Censor on censorship in a digital age, 17 November, 6.30pm at Ngā Taonga.
• a programme of censor’s offcuts - clips cut from films by the New Zealand censors over the years.
“Once deemed to be unacceptable or harmful to society, the films we're showing give a glimpse of changing moral and political mores – and the response to those changes,” says Diane Pivac, film historian and Group Manager of Outreach and Engagement at Ngā Taonga.
“The introduction of censorship in 1916 was a response to churches, local bodies, education boards and social action organisations, “ says Diane. “They were concerned that ‘the class of moving pictures at present exhibited in New Zealand constitutes a grave danger to the moral health and social welfare of the community’.”*[i]
However, censorship has also responded to changing technology - from the arrival of film, audio, radio and television to video, computers, the internet and high-speed digital technology.
“We live in an age where people anywhere can access material across the globe in real time. How do regulators meet these challenges? And how do we balance the public’s right to freedom of expression against concern over ease of access to potentially harmful material?” says Diane Pivac.
“With the Chief Censor Dr Andrew Jack, we’re delighted to bring this debate to the public with a panel discussion on censorship in this digital age,”
Noting a recent Government announcement proposing reforms to online media classification laws, Chief Censor Dr Andrew Jack says he welcomes the opportunity to participate.
“Important changes are coming and public debate is essential if we’re going to ensure a system that is workable, fair, and helps protect our young people from access to potentially harmful content,” says Dr Jack.
Banned films and censorship information
Russia, 1925, 66 min, PG
Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film about a Russian naval mutiny and massacre of protestors was later considered one of the greatest films of all time. But for political reasons, Battleship Potemkin wasn’t allowed in New Zealand until 1946, and even then only to be screened by film societies.
US, 1930, 136 min, PG – Violence
One of the first controversies over censorship was caused by the epic 1930 war film, All Quiet On The Western Front, made in the United States. Banned in New Zealand as anti-war propaganda, its relatively realistic portrayal of war was described by the Censor as “nauseating”. A deputation of MPs, who saw the film at a private screening, took up the case with the Appeal Board and it was passed on appeal with one cut.
US, 1953, 79 min, Rating TBC
The original outlaw biker movie, the 1953 film The Wild One was banned in NZ for 24 years. The main character Johnny, played by Marlon Brando, became a cultural icon of the 1950s – but in New Zealand the film’s release coincided with moral angst about teenage behavior and juvenile gangs in Lower Hutt, the establishment of a Special Committee on Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents, and the banning of hundreds of comics books. To add to public concern, 1954 was the year when teenagers Pauline Parker and Janet Hulme battered Pauline's mother to death in Christchurch.
The Wild One was finally released in 1977 with an R16 certificate – which is still in place for cinema screenings, although the DVD is rated PG–violence. The Censor’s Office has been asked to re-assess the film for cinema screenings.
Australia, 1979, 88 min, R16 – violence
Set in a dystopian future Australia, Mad Max won three AACTA Awards, attracted a cult following, was hugely profitable and launched the career of Mel Gibson. However, it received a polarised reception and was banned in New Zealand in 1979 because of objectionable content. This was upheld in 1981.
In March 1982, its sequel Mad Max 2 was released with an R16 rating, and just over a year later Mad Max was passed with an R18 rating.
Mad Max was last month re-assessed on request, and reclassified as R16.
More event information and dates: www.ngataonga.org.nz/about/news/censored
All events and films screened at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, 84 Taranaki St, Wellington.
Updated on 10th November 2016