The man behind a new film about Hull's year as the UK City of Culture has hit out at censors after they gave it it 15 rating.
A Northern Soul is Hull-born award-winning documentary filmmaker Sean McAllister's take on 2017. It follows struggling factory worker Steve Arnott's dream of bringing hip-hop and rap to the city's estates in a youth project involving a
The film was given a 12A rating by licensing councillors in Hull ahead of a recent series of initial screenings at the University of Hull and Vue cinema.
But now the BBFC has decided it should have a 15 rating for strong language.
While the documentary does feature regular use of the F-word, McAllister said swearing was what ordinary people in Hull did and claimed the decision was an attack on working-class people. On Twitter, he said:
It's a film about a working-class bloke helping kids with rap music find a better life.
McAllister commented: It's funny the swearing in The King's Speech is a lot worse, including the C-word, but that gets a 12A. He also compared the decision to the swearing on many of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey's TV shows.
More screenings will be held on three evenings next week at Vue as well as later in the month. In response to the BBFC decision, Mr McAllister said all next week's screenings would be free to children under 15 and over 12ish.
[The censorship of strong language in films is one of the silliest aspects of film censorship. Surely young teams will be well versed in strong language, and they will have heard it all before. Surely it will make no difference if they hear the
same at the cinema.
But to be fair to the film censors, strong language is one of the things that parents, maybe especially middle class parents, ask for the censors to cut or restrict.
Should the film BBFC consider the actual effect of young teens hearing strong language on screen, or should they follow the wishes of the parents?.
And there certainly is a class aspect to this. The unspoken underlying reality is that middle class parents simply don't want their kids speaking like working class kids].
Hull City Council has decided that it will not adhere to the BBFC decision to award Sean McAllister's feature documentary A Northern Soul a 15-certificate. Instead, the council will allow the film to be shown in the city at a 12A rating,
granting anyone from the age of 12 upwards the option to view the film, while those under 12 can do so if accompanied by an adult.
The council had originally granted the film a 12A certificate for a short theatrical run in the city prior to its official release (which begins on Friday, August 24), but had informed the filmmakers that it would be implementing the 15 rating
for further screenings. This decision has now been reversed, and three further screenings at Vue Hull this week will carry the 12A rating.
Following a hearing, the council said that its Licensing Sub-Committee had determined the film would be classified 12A for showings, at any time, at premises within the Licensing Authority's area. It gave its reason for the decision as being:
Strong language was only used by the subject of the film to express emotion in interviews with the filmmaker, was never directed at an individual, or used in an aggressive manner
The BBFC's original certification has caused controversy in the UK since the decision was made on August 11, with many viewing the certificate as not appropriate for a feature doc that spotlights everyday working-class Britain. The rating was
awarded due to the film's strong language, owing to it containing more than four uses of the word fuck -- the film contains the word or variations on it a total of 10 times.
Director McAllister said that the film contains no violence, no sexual content, and no aggressive swearing, with the only use of profanity being within the confines of everyday language. He noted that the rating now restricts their outreach
opportunities. [The decision] prevents school screenings of this film (for kids under 15) which is so necessary in the communities across this divided nation, he commented when the BBFC classified the film.
Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Kingston Upon Hull North, said on Twitter that she was surprised by the BBFC's decision, adding that she didn't understand why the film would be a 15 while a title such as The King's Speech , which contains
stronger language, would receive a PG.
A Northern Soul producer, Elhum Shakerifar, commented:
As a documentary producer, I hope that this does bring into question the matter of representation, particularly of working class realities on screen, but also the reality of documentary filmmaking versus fiction. Our characters aren't scripted,
they're real people that we spend time with to build bridges of confidence, respect and communication with - and we don't want to take words out of their mouths, just as we don't put words into them, she said.
Shakerifar added that they are now intending to apply for local certificates with further local councils, and have already begun the process in Beverley, which is seven miles away from Hull and will be hosting screenings of the film in a few
Comment: The Director of A Northern Soul makes his case against the BBFC in the Guardian
My film-making style is intimate and engaged -- I look for characters whom I film over a long period of time and who let me into their lives fully. Finding people who can articulate their situation is important, and Steve's dream of helping poor
kids in Hull during the city of culture period seemed the perfect opportunity. Steve trusted me and talked openly and honestly. Trust and intimacy are things a documentary film-maker works hard for -- they're not easily won, and it is also a
As a result, Steve speaks to me as he would to a mate -- his language is real and engaging. He uses the occasional F-word, as most of us do in everyday language, but only ever in my company, never in front of anyone else, and this is never
aggressive or sexual.
There is a limited amount of bad language in the film. There are 19 F-words: 14 from Steve, and five that feature in the song Sometimes by Akala, who appears briefly in the film on stage, singing the lyrics When I feel like / Fuck it, I've had
enough. It's the BBFC's job to count them and apparently you're not allowed more than four!
But the point isn't the strong language -- it's about a voice and the everyday lived reality of someone being censored. It seems absurd that this would be deemed inappropriate for children, while films currently playing at the cinema receive 12A
certificates despite gratuitous on-screen violence. Mission Impossible, 12A, has a scene of someone being shot point blank on camera, for example.
I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you will have seen the 2010 film The King's Speech , portraying George VI. It contained 11 uses of the F-word and was granted a classification of 12A. I recently saw the highly rated documentary A Northern
Soul by Hull film-maker Sean McAllister. Its main character uses the F-word 14 times and it is heard 19 times in total in the film. None of it was aggressive or gratuitous, and the film simply portrays the life of a working-class Hull man
and his work helping local children, but it has been given a 15 certificate nationally. May we therefore have a debate about whether there is a class bias in the way censors seek to protect younger teenagers from the reality and language that
many experience in their lives every day?
Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
The hon. Lady raises a genuinely interesting point, and I urge her to seek an Adjournment debate so she can discuss it with Ministers and then take it forward.
Eight local councils have now decided to overturn a film's BBFC 15 age rating so younger viewers can watch it.
The documentary A Northern Soul was rated 15 by the BBFC for strong language. The BBFC commented:
It includes around 20 uses of strong language and therefore exceeds by some margin anything we have ever permitted at 12A.
The film follows Steve, who struggles to make ends meet as he tries to teach hip-hop to children in Hull schools with his Beats Bus.
So far, licensing committees in Hull, Lambeth, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Southampton, Hackney and Calderdale have downgraded A Northern Soul from a 15 to a 12A.
Phil Bates, licensing manager at Southampton City Council, said he viewed the film differently because it's a documentary rather than a drama. He explained:
We can see why BBFC awarded a 15 rating, although equally we can see why other authorities have also granted it a 12A.
The use of profane language is fairly infrequent, some of it was used at a time of stress but there were occasions when it was used as everyday language. As this is a fly-on-the-wall style film, showing life as it is, rather than a scripted film
where the language is used for effect, we felt the film warranted a 12A.
Director Sean McAllister spoke of the councils' decisions: I think they're responding as human beings. He added that Steve's language was credible and real and culturally embedded within how he speaks. He continued:
The irony is that the motivation for making this film and the heart of why this film should be seen has got the thing censored.
When people actually see it, everyone's saying 'where's the swearing?' They [the BBFC] have done a word count, which is an F count, and they've simply censored it based on that. And they've got to get over that.
When in Mission Impossible people are having their heads blown off and 12As are being granted, the whole thing is hypocritical, backward and needs reassessing. Language not used for effect
The BBFC repeated its mantra that its classification guidelines are the result of a large scale public consultation designed to reflect broad public opinion across the UK. Bit in reality the 'large scale' part of its public consultation asks a
few broad brush questions about whether people generally agree with the BBFC about ratings. The questions do not offer any more nuanced insight into what people think about swearing in the context of everyday parlance of some working
The BBFC wrote in the minutes of its September board meeting:
A Northern Soul is a UK documentary classified 15 for cinema release for around twenty uses of strong language. Prior to its submission to the BBFC Sheffield City Council classified the film 12A, for its premiere, as did Hull City
Council. The film's director complained in the media about the BBFC's decision. A letter co-signed by three Hull MPs was sent to the BBFC requesting that the 15 classification be reviewed, to which David Austin responded. The film is now
classified 12A by seven local authorities (Sheffield, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Halifax, Southampton and Lambeth).
Update: Nottingham too
25th October 2018. See article
Nottingham City Council has joined the group of councils that has disagreed with the BBFC 15 rating for the documentary, A Northern Soul. The film will be released locally with a Nottingham 12A rating.