“Mary Poppins”: the evolving standards of film classification

Mary Poppins uses a "racially insensitive term", and for this reason it can only be seen by minors if accompanied

In a move that reflects the shifting sands of societal norms and the increasing scrutiny on historical content through the lens of modern values, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has recently updated the cinematic classification of the iconic Disney film “Mary Poppins” from U, indicating it contains no material likely to offend or harm, to PG (parental guidance suggested). This decision underscores the growing influence of politically correct perspectives on the entertainment of yesteryears, including both cinema and literature.

A Change Prompted by Language

The crux of the reclassification hinges on the use of language deemed discriminatory within the 1964 classic, starring Julie Andrews as the magical nanny and Dick Van Dyke as her affable assistant, Bert. Specifically, the film contains two instances of the term ‘Hottentots,’ a word now recognized as racist towards the Khoekhoe, an indigenous group of South Africa. This term, alongside its application by Admiral Boom to refer to chimney sweeps with soot-covered faces, has been flagged for its potential to perpetuate offensive language among children.

BBFC’s Stance on Discriminatory Language

A spokesperson for the BBFC elaborated on the decision, noting:

“From our research on racism and discrimination and recent research on classification guidelines, we understand that one of the primary concerns for people, especially parents, is the possibility of exposing children to discriminatory language or behavior that they might find distressing or inadvertently repeat without realizing the potential offense. Some languages or behaviors are therefore not allowed at U or PG under any circumstances, or depend entirely on the context.”

This statement reflects a nuanced approach to content classification, balancing historical context with contemporary sensitivities to discrimination and its impact on young audiences.

Implications for “Mary Poppins”

As “Mary Poppins” approaches its 60th anniversary, which was set to be celebrated with a re-release in select cinemas, this classification change mandates that younger viewers must be accompanied by adults. This policy will be effective from February 23, 2024, as announced on the BBFC’s website, marking a significant shift in how this beloved film can be shared with new generations.

Source: BBFC

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