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The 12 Certificate

BBFC classification aimed at older children

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The 12 certificate was introduced by the British Board of Film Classification on 1 August 1989, and was defined as follows:

Passed only for persons of twelve years and over. No person apparently under the age of 12 years shall be admitted to any exhibition at which there is to be shown any film which has received a '12' certificate from the British Board of Film Classification.

The BBFC had recognised for some time that there was a need for a classification between PG and 15, due to an increasing number of films which were considered too graphic (either visually or verbally) for very young children, but which might well be suitable for young teenagers.

In 1984, the Motion Picture Association of America introduced the PG-13 rating in response to concerns that certain mainstream blockbusters, notably Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (US, d. Steven Spielberg, 1984) and Gremlins (US, d. Joe Dante, 1984), were too violent for younger audiences.

This led to Hollywood studios deliberately making PG-13 films, which created a dilemma for the BBFC - was it really appropriate to ban a film to under-fifteens just because of a single instance of contentious material? This debate became public when many parents complained after Crocodile Dundee (Australia, d. Peter Faiman, 1987) was given a 15 certificate despite clearly being a family film.

So in 1989, the BBFC experimentally awarded Madame Sousatzka (d. John Schlesinger, 1989) a 12 certificate in London, and Batman (US, d. Tim Burton, 1989) was the first general release title to feature the classification.

However, the statutory nature of video classifications meant that extending the 12 certificate to cover video releases required an amendment to the 1984 Video Recordings Act. As with most changes in the law, this took some time, and the 12 video certificate was finally introduced on 1 July 1994.

On 30 August 2002 the BBFC replaced the theatrical 12 certificate with the 12A certificate, though the 12 video certificate remained as before.

The BBFC permits the following within the bounds of the 12 certificate:

Theme: Mature themes are acceptable, but their treatment must be suitable for young teenagers.
Language: The use of strong language should be rare and must be justified by context.
Nudity: Nudity is allowed, but in a sexual context will be brief and discreet.
Sex: Sexual activity may be implied. Sexual references may reflect the familiarity of most adolescents today with sex education through school.
Violence: Violence must not dwell on detail. There should be no emphasis on injuries or blood. Sexual violence may only be implied or briefly indicated and without physical detail.
Imitable techniques: Dangerous techniques (examples include: combat, hanging, suicides) should contain no imitable detail. Realistic and contemporary weapons should not be glamorised.
Horror: Sustained threat and menace is permitted. Occasional gory moments only.
Drugs: Brief and occasional references to, and sight of, 'soft' drug-taking (eg cannabis) are allowed, but must be justified by context and should indicate the dangers. No instructional elements are permitted.

Michael Brooke

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