How the BBFC is Helping Young People Make Informed Viewing Choices

28 Feb 2019 BY Alexa

6 mins
Into Film's young reporters outside the BBFC
Into Film's young reporters outside the BBFC

Today the BBFC launched their updated guidelines, which determine what certificate they assign a film, and why. Into Film reporter Alexa attended the launch event and below gives her perspective on the new guidelines, and how they deal with the issues that concern young people.

As someone with an irrational fear of creepy horror, the BBFC's age ratings that accompany films have long been invaluable to me. The ability of the age ratings to protect younger viewers from potentially harmful content but also to warn others of sensitive material is indispensable. Young people are now surrounded by an unprecedented amount of content, a lot of it available instantaneously at our fingertips. The need to regulate and protect ourselves from themes we are not comfortable with is greater than ever.

At age 18, I am legally ‘allowed' to see any film of any age rating in the cinema. Yet, the BBFC guidelines still play a massive role in my viewing decisions. A normal part of my cinema experience now includes a brief check of sensitive material in and the rating for a film. There are certain topics that I'm not comfortable with viewing and the BBFC guidelines allow me to self-regulate and avoid these entirely. I know that I am also now not alone in my self-regulation habits. Many of my peers have engaged in similar methods in order to avoid these hard-hitting topics.

The decision by the BBFC to further restrict (without totally preventing) at what age young people see sexual violence in film is the right one. It allows the subject to still be viewed and feature in a plot but can also encourage important conversations. Discussions regarding sexual violence between younger people and those in positions of responsibility (i.e. parents/teachers) can be crucial in educating them on how to deal with distressing content. It can also be vital in opening up an important dialogue about things such as consent and how to help others dealing with sexual violence.

With the masses of content available online, the ability to control what we watch has become something of a privilege. It can be hard to work out whether what you're about to watch is suitable for your age group - assessing the likelihood of encountering topics you're not comfortable with is essentially a game of chance! Online content providers are only further contributing to this wave of media now available to young people. 

That's why the decision by these digital providers, such as Netflix, to display and utilise BBFC ratings on their content is key: it keeps the user (especially young people) informed of the nature of the content they're about to watch. The public is familiar and comfortable with the BBFC cinema ratings so continuity through to online content only makes sense. Social media often allows the line between real life and fiction to be blurred. So, with more groups working with the BBFC, this distinction can become more prevalent and aid in reducing anxiety that younger people are feeling as a result of this content.

Despite everything the BBFC has put in place, it's important to remember that they hold a small part in a film's promotion. For example, people often discuss issues they have with certain trailers being played prior to films with a drastically different intended audience and tone. Whilst the film trailer still falls in the same age rating, one might not intend to encounter those themes hence worsening the impact they have. 

Similarly, marketing can often mislead a viewer. If a film is marketed at a younger audience than the show is rated for, it can lead to the wrong people encountering topics that they would not be comfortable viewing. The responsibility of marketing teams cannot be emphasised enough, especially when it's so easy to simply press play on a piece of online content. The BBFC's ratings are a good step but I look forward to streaming services and cinemas taking further action to protect younger and vulnerable audiences.

The BBFC's recent guideline changes are a massive step forward. Younger people are better protected from mature content both in cinemas and online. As well as this, these changes are only going to help others in self-regulating the content they choose to watch going forward. I look forward to seeing how these changes are implemented and also to see how they fit with public opinion in future years.

Young Reporter Alexa

Alexa, Young Reporter

Alexa is currently an A-level student studying maths, history and economics. She is particularly interested in the politics and history behind films and how this is displayed on the big screen. She enjoys watching and making films and produced a film as part of the BFI's Film Academy. She hopes to study Politics Philosophy and Economics at university next year.

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