How many times will the British Board of Film Classification allow you to use the word cunt in a movie? The answer may surprise you.
Edgar Wright, director Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, recently finished his third collaboration with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, The World’s End.
While in the scripting phase, he sent an email to the BBFC asking just how many times he could use the ‘c’ word before the film’s rating would be pushed from a 15 to an 18. Wright posted the incredibly detailed response that he received from the Board on his blog.
On 20 Oct 2011, at 15:07, Craig Lapper wrote:
Dear Mr Wright,
Thank you for your email, which Hammad Khan has passed on to me.
The BBFC’s Guidelines at ’15′ state ‘The strongest terms (for example, ‘cunt’) may be acceptable if justified by the context. Aggressive or repeated use of the strongest language is unlikely to be acceptable’.
As a general rule, it is highly unusual for the BBFC to permit more than three or four uses of very strong language at ’15′ in a feature length work. In terms of context, it is more likely that we would pass throwaway, matter-of-fact, or comic uses than uses that are aggressive, personally directed, or accompanied by complicating factors such as violence, threat, racism, or a power imbalance (for example, male to female uses are more of a problem than the other way around). In an extreme case, even a single aggressive use can push a film to ’18′ (for example, if a man were hitting a woman and calling her a cunt, or a man of one race hitting a person of a different race and using very strong language in combination with racist terms). Similarly, putting several uses together in a very short space of time may breach the ‘repeated’ section of our Guidelines and cause problems at ’15′. It is generally better if uses are spread out somewhat.
As you say, we passed a single use in SHAUN OF THE DEAD because the use in question was throwaway, unthreatening, and essentially a term of endearment amongst friends (“Can I get any of you cunts a drink?”). In the case of HOT FUZZ we actually permitted two uses, one spoken and one written. First of all, we see the word ‘cunt’ on the list of prohibited terms on the swearbox in the police station and then we hear “What a cunt” when a man tells his friend about a man who sold drugs to kids. In the first case, the use was written (which reduces its impact) and of course lacked any aggression. In the second case, the use was not aggressive and was not personally directed but instead uttered about a person who is not present at the time.
So, the answer to your question is that it is possible to receive a ’15′ with three or four uses, provided they are not aggressive or threatening or complicated by any kind of power imbalance. However, it’s best not to concentrate them together into a short outburst and we’d certainly caution against more than three or four uses.
I hope that’s helpful to you.