Controversy in Barbados over ban on award winning film

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday February 21, 2011 – Barbados’ Film Censorship Board is taking another look at the award winning film, ‘Black Swan’, after initially banning it last week in a move that triggered an appeal by one cinema and sparked a petition by disappointed movie goers and other residents.

The Board will decide this week, after another screening, whether Barbadians will get to see the film in cinemas after all.

The drama/thriller was scheduled to begin showing at Olympus Theatres last week, but the Board instituted the ban last Wednesday, deeming the film inappropriate for viewing because of offensive sexual behaviour. The movie features a scene depicting a lesbian encounter.

Barbados is just one of two countries that have banned ‘Black Swan’, the other being the United Arab Emirates. It has been rated R in most other countries.

After the ban was announced, the Olympus Theatres filed an appeal and the Film Censorship Board agreed to review the movie.

The Film Censorship Board has also come under other fire for its decision, with some residents describing it as an affront to freedom of expression; and hypocritical, considering that other sexually explicit and violent films such as the ‘Saw’ films, the ‘Crank films’, and ‘Piranha 3D’, as well as ‘Brokeback Mountain’, which centers on a homosexual relationship, have been approved for viewing in Barbados.

An online petition, ‘Against the Affront to Freedom of Expression in Barbados by the Barbados Board of Film Censors’, and a Facebook group entitled ‘For Freedom of Thought and Expression in Barbados’ have been gaining momentum and had reached 247 signatures and 459 members, respectively, by this morning.

The creator of the Facebook page insists that “this is not about the movie”.

“This is about our right to chose what we can and do watch or read or consume in any way. This is about the idea that there is a body that polices us as adults, and actually has the right to censor what media we can look at,” the page states.

Members have proposed a silent protest march to make a further statement.

The online petition goes even further, making several demands of the Film Censorship Board, including that it reverse its decision “to restrict freedom of expression by banning the film”; understand the meanings and intent of MPAA film ratings (or the rating from the films originating country), that is, to inform parents on the suitability of a film for viewing by children, and to protect artistic freedom; refrain from changing a films rating; and hold a limited screening of films to unbiased members of the public and rely on their input before pronouncing a ban.

“The Barbados Board of Film Censors chose to censor this film, without any discussion about its content with the public, and subsequently failing to publish adequately explained reasons behind its decision. We believe that freedom of expression is a key pillar in a democratic society, and when leaders choose to censor material without consulting the public, particularly artistic material which may be of cultural significance, our whole society loses,” it said.

“Indeed, in this case, it is patronizing that the board doesn’t think that Barbadians can handle a film that has won such prestigious awards, and that people the world over are enjoying…Banning art sets a dangerous precedent, which encourages those around the world who wish to restrict freedom of expression.”

The petitioners say that removing the ban on ‘Black Swan’ would demonstrate commitment to freedom of expression and choice, while correct implementation and understanding of film ratings would demonstrate commitment to parents’ freedom of choice, to freedom of expression, and holding a limited screening of films to members of the public before pronouncing a ban would show commitment to and the respect of the people’s freedom of expression and self determination.

‘Black Swan’ has won 48 awards and has been nominated for 166 others, including an Academy Award.

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