Kings Deserved Rating, Not Banning

Just as the wise counsellor has been usurped by the spin doctor, so, too, have long-term solutions been supplanted by quick fixes. Why take your garbage to the dump...
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Just as the wise counsellor has been usurped by the spin doctor, so, too, have long-term solutions been supplanted by quick fixes.

Why take your garbage to the dump when a field will do? Why repave a road when you can endlessly refill the potholes?

We live in an age of convenience. There are those who will say it has ever been thus.

Another example: Why restrict admission to a movie when you can simply ban it?

As disgusting as litterbugs are and as much as our roads are, literally, a pain in the ass, it’s Barbados’ Film Censorship Board’s January 11 decision to ban the Spike Lee movie *The Original Kings of Comedy* that still has me puzzled.

In an interview with Orlando Cox in the Nation newspaper of January 26, the deputy chairman of the board again cited the movie’s “strong language” as the main reason for its decision. Within a matter of weeks, Olympus Theatres, which were prohibited from showing the movie, decided to challenge the board’s decision in court.

The movie version of a tour of four black American comedians that grossed a record US$37 million, Kings is pretty rough stuff, with jokes on sex, race, politics, child abuse.

“Because of the strong language,” said Cox, “we felt it would be in the best interest of the public to ban the movie.”

Cox also noted the difficulty in keeping children out of the theatres: “Even when movies are rated Adults Only, some under-18s still manage to slip through and gain admittance….”

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Here, I return to my initial lament: if there is a problem with keeping minors from seeing adult-rated movies in theatres, then tighten up admission requirements.

Make carding mandatory. Have spot-checks by board members or other officials. (We don’t have that many theatres on the island.) Be sure such violations carry heavy fines.

Just don’t call this lapse on the part of theatre owners just another reason to ban the movie.

I have heard many say, Who’s the board trying to kid? We’ve had Eddie Murphy’s Raw. We’ve had 48 Hours. We’ve had arguably worse–coupled with sex and violence.

After all, Moesha star Bernie Mac, perhaps the raunchiest and most incisive of all the comedians (Cedric The Entertainer is sharp though far less profane; D.L. Hughley and Steve Harvey are basically clowns), makes it a point to remind the audience at the end of his routine that the outrageous things he is saying are just comedy–it ain’t meant to hurt no one, and it ain’t meant to be taken seriously.

But it seems Mac’s point was missed, which is really the issue.

What else is the board likely to miss, given its mandate and make-up?

Diverse as it is, there seems to be little to no representation on the board by someone who has worked in film or the related arts. “The success of four black entertainers, in our view, could have been portrayed in a different and more positive light,” Cox stated in the interview. I have difficulty with those who judge a work–any work–not for what it is or ought to be, rather for what they wish it to be or think it ought to be. More often than not, this leads to misunderstanding the work under scrutiny.

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Is this case one of freedom of expression? Possibly. I’m not a hundred percent comfortable with others deciding what I can and cannot see when it comes to movies and the like, though we do require bodies to regulate such matters.

Every now and then, society does need saving from itself; artists are people, too. I guess I’m always concerned about the reasoning behind the decisions such bodies make on my behalf.

That the board is for “censorship” and not “ratings” per se further suggests its limitations, not its strengths. If you are called a censorship board, you proceed not only with that mandate but that mindset.

I believe in erring on the side of caution; I’m not willing to call The Original Kings of Comedy a great work of art that should be seen by all, even if they are adults. But the movie is a work of some significance and relatively innocuous.

It deserved rating, not banning.


Robert Edison Sandiford is a Canadian novelist, short story writer and essayist. Born in Montreal, Quebec, he co-founded with the poet Linda M. Deane ArtsEtc, a periodical devoted to culture in Barbados. In 2003, his short story "Reckoning" was awarded the Barbados Governor General's Award for Literary Excellence.
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