After ten years of the 12A certificate, it is clear that it has solved one problem but created another
There has been no more regular discussion in British film over the last decade than the one over the 12A certificate. Created in 2002 after a furore over the rating for Spider-Man, the 12A has been described by the British Board of Film Classification as a recognition that parents know their children best, but it has courted a fair amount of controversy.
That recognition is sensible. I myself was snuck into the 12 rated Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by one of my parents, before the 12A had been introduced. I was eleven at the time, and that was the first film I saw which wasn’t aimed at children, and I emerged having loved the film, but also having been easily able to handle it. A 12A would have been very appropriate in that case.
However, it is subject to the law of unintended consequences. Despite the fact that the film is rated as suitable for 12 and over, its allowance for a younger audience means that the films are marketed for that younger audience. We can see this in the recent examples of The Hunger Games and, more obviously, The Woman in Black, which would have happily been a 15, had it not been for the casting of Daniel Radcliffe, a 22 year-old playing a widower lawyer, with a four year-old son, and incongruous decision aimed at the money of the younger audience.
The upshot is that very dark and potentially unsuitable films are being aimed at children a fair bit younger than 12. This is not necessarily the fault of the BBFC. Parents remain responsible for what their children see, but it is a phenomena that should be looked at.
Undoubtedly, the 12A has had benefits. Like the aforementioned Crouching Tiger, there are many films which sat on the cusp of the old 12 and PG ratings. Shortly before the Spider-Man farrago pushed the matter over the edge, there was the rating for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, which was a PG, though the BBFC advised that it was unsuitable for anyone under 8. If that film were released now, it would be a straight 12A, no doubt. That problem no longer exists.
However, when one looks at films like Juno or The Woman in Black, you are looking at films which 12 year-olds can probably handle or understand, and films for which a 15 certificate seems very strong, but films which seem to be pushing it for the vast majority of under-12s. They would have been more comfortably classified with the old 12 certificate.
What has happened with the introduction of the 12A is the compression of two demographics into one, and the creation of a new problem. 12A films are now aimed at ages 10-14, a span which covers a lot of change and maturation. The simple fact is that the certificate has not so much abolished the old problem as moved it to a different area.
So, what to do? I am for the 12A certificate, but in some instances it leads to difficult situations, and, as in the instance of The Woman in Black and The Hunger Games, the unfortunate cutting of films by distributors to achieve a certain certificate. There was nothing wrong with the old 12 certificate, and perhaps it should return alongside the 12A. The 12A is for films which are borderline 12/PG, not for films which could get bumped up to a 15.