Censoring Movies – a briefing
BREAKING: Today in 1943 American movie studio executives agree to allow the Office of War Information to censor movies.
During the Second World War, all forms of entertainment were subjected to the same scrutiny as was the news of the day. Over the years, however, the movies have probably been the most worrisome of all entertainment forms of media to those concerned about the messages presented to audiences. It is arguable whether any other medium has been subject to the scrutiny and forced restraint as have the movies. This is due to their extraordinary power and popularity, which have convinced many of their special capacity for harm and influence. The power of visual forms of communication, especially during a time before television and daily exposure to such forms in individual homes, cannot be discounted.
From its inception, the censorship of movies, has been conducted by a combination of government, industry (self) and private censorship. Following is an example, description and brief history of each.
The Office of War Information (OWI)
As its primary duty in the motion picture industry, the OWI “ encouraged” the studio heads to follow the government’s directive related to communicating the war. The OWI’s influence over the motion picture industry was extraordinary. Almost immediately after the OWI was formed, a liaison for the organization sent a memo to the studio heads listing a set of criteria that should be considered when contemplating making any film. These initial “suggestions” were regularly changed and the OWI had almost constant communication with film industry personnel regarding the materials being produced.
The Production Code
Public concern and criticism as well as government threats for censorship over the content in movies started in the 1920’s . But it wasn’t until 1930 that an official set of standards were drafted due to the increase concern once the movies started talking. The addition of sound to movies meant audiences could be subjected to stronger immorality.
The Legion of Decency
Out of exasperation with the American film industry, Catholic Bishops formed the Legion of Decency in 1934. The Legion would review and rate films according to very strict guidelines. They would give films negative ratings based on a film’s moral tone, its message or based on a specific scene, word or costume in the film. Following the directive of their religious leaders, the American public took pledges against “bad” movies. Not only did they pledge to not go see any movie that had content with questionable morality, but also to never go into theaters that showed questionable films.