Sex and Violence in Hollywood

Hollywood has certainly changed since the 1950s. Back then there was less sex and violence in Hollywood entertainment. A good example is The Lucy Show. Lucy and her charismatic singer/band leader husband Ricky Ricardo, were practically chaste on the popular show, which ran on CBS for 6 years.

Even though we only saw a brief kiss now and then, we still knew they were madly in love. They also slept in separate beds, and even the word ‘sex’ was never mentioned. Rob and Mary on the Dick van Dyke Show also slept in separate beds and none of the characters in either show ever said the word ‘pregnant’.

Censorship in Art

Censorship has always existed in every society throughout history. There is a constant clash between what one person views as offensive and another views as art. A lot has also depended on who was in power at the time and what their political, ideological and religious views were.

It isn’t just TV shows, but movies have also been censored. As soon as movies started going in the direction of any sex or violence the “morality police” started forcing them to reign it in. In response to that, film industry executives decided to start regulating themselves with a production code.

Self Censorship – Sex and Violence

Economically it made sense to self-censor and save the extra money that would have gone into reediting a film. The code was pretty strict and prohibited nudity, drug use, suggestive dancing, offensive words, ridicule of the clergy, scenes of actual childbirth, and brutal killings. It even went so far as to say that the sanctity of marriage be upheld, and plots couldn’t sympathize with criminals.

But as with all art, artists began to start pushing the envelope starting in the early 60s. They backed down on their self-censorship promise, and movies pushed the boundaries for edginess. So, the Hollywood Administration Code was formed to strictly enforce the code. They fined any theater that ran a film without the PCA seal of approval $25,000. In 1968 the code was replaced by the MPAA age-based ratings system that still exists today.

Throughout history, films and TV shows have been banned in countries around the world for different reasons. Even Barney’s Great Adventure was banned in Malaysia for being unacceptable for children.

#MeToo Movement

But everything goes in cycles, and that’s especially true for Hollywood. Even before the #MeToo movement and the COVID-19 crisis shut down production, Hollywood was producing fewer movies and TV shows with sex scenes. It all usually boils down to money, and this was the case here. Mid-budget character dramas and the fact that movies needed to appeal to all ages suddenly started changing things. If your movie got an R rating, that eliminated a big part of the audience. And that meant fewer dollars. Ultimately it all came down to money.

Unlike the days when I was an actor, thanks to the #MeToo movement, female actors are putting their collective feet down when it comes to doing nudity and sex scenes. Actors are demanding more specific riders in their contracts regarding nudity, and are including provisions for legal ramifications if there is any leaked nudity footage from the production.

Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers

Now with Covid-19 The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is putting out guidelines for production changes to keep everyone as safe as possible. Their guidelines mention that “fight scenes and intimate scenes increase the risk of transmission,” so scripts will need to be rewritten to avoid putting actors at risk. Actors are required to stay “as silent as possible to avoid spreading droplets through talking.”

It looks like Hollywood will be self censoring once again, so I guess everything goes in cycles. Does this mean we will be seeing more movies about nuns? And will today’s TV characters be sleeping in separate beds like Lucy and Ricky? You never know. I wouldn’t try to second guess Hollywood.

I’m constantly hearing people say “They don’t make movies the way they used to”. But I never knew why. It seems the film rating system these days has also changed the actual content. Not to say that it’s better or worse. Just different.

Voluntary Film Rating System

In 1968 a voluntary movie rating system was put in place to help parents determine the content a particular movie contained. The Motion Picture Association of America screens movies for objectionable content and places a rating system on each one so parents can determine for themselves whether the movie is okay for their kids to watch.

One set of parents may think a movie with some violence is okay for their kids to watch, where for another set of parents it may be too much. The MPAA lets the “average American Parent” decide the ratings through their Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA).

Parental Guidance Board

I always thought CARA was a censorship organization, but it’s actually a parental guidance board. It was established to replace the Production Code Administration, which required all movies be viewable by all audiences. The Production Code came about because, after films began to have sound and color, the public demanded stricter censorship of movies.

MPAA Film Ratings

Movies that didn’t pass the PCA’s strict code simply didn’t get released. They weren’t rated for different ages, so there weren’t any movies for adults only. The new MPAA ratings aren’t based on moral values, but on the content alone. The Production Code had strict moral codes written in. For example, a film had to have “moral obligations”.

One requirement was that a film couldn’t present evil “alluringly, even if later on the evil is condemned or punished.” It stated that at the end of the movie, evil had to be seen as evil and good as good.

When it comes to crime, the film “must not throw sympathy with the criminal”. And “the courts of the land must not be presented as unjust”.