Chimney Sweep

‘Mary Poppins’ Ranking Modified in UK Attributable to ‘Discriminatory Language’ – IndieWire

It’ll take more than a spoonful of sugar for the “discriminatory language” of 1964’s “Mary Poppins” to be overlooked by the UK’s movie-rating system.

The classic film, which stars Julie Andrews as the titular nanny, has officially been reclassified from a “U” (universal) rating to “PG” (parental guidance) by the British Board of Film Classification. BBC first reported the rating switch.

The reason for the stricter rating more than 50 years later? The Oscar-winning musical includes a “derogatory term originally used by white Europeans about nomadic peoples in southern Africa” in reference to “soot-faced chimney-sweeps,” per the BBC. The term, which historically referenced the the Khoikhoi and San people, is used twice by Admiral Boom (Reginald Owen). Usage of the word is considered offensive today.

Due to its inclusion, the BBFC noted the film “exceeds our guidelines” for a U rating.

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“Most recently, the film was resubmitted to us in February 2024 for another theatrical re-release, and we reclassified it PG for discriminatory language,” a BBFC spokesperson told the BBC. “While ‘Mary Poppins‘ has a historical context, the use of discriminatory language is not condemned, and ultimately exceeds our guidelines for acceptable language at U. We therefore classified the film PG for discriminatory language.”

The reasoning included the “potential to expose children to discriminatory language or behavior which they may find distressing or repeat without realizing the potential offense”.

The BBFC originally classified the film in 1964 as U. It revisited — and reinstated — the rating in 2013 for a re-release. A U rating states that a film is suitable for children four years and over; PG is for kids eight and older.

The original “Mary Poppins” is rated G by the MPA (Motion Picture Association, fka MPAA) in the U.S. Its long-awaited sequel in 2018 is rated PG. The MPA cannot change its rating of a movie unless the owner or studio behind a movie, in this case Disney, asks the MPA to re-rate the movie. That’s because the MPA is a voluntary system and has a relationship and trust with the studios on the self-evaluation of its movies. The BBFC on the other hand is affiliated with the government and has more autonomy.

Disney did not respond to a request for comment about whether it would request a rating change from the MPA for “Mary Poppins.”

Emily Blunt is the present-day Mary Poppins. Lin-Manuel Miranda played Bert the chimney sweep, originally portrayed by Dick Van Dyke in the 1964 film.

The original “Mary Poppins” isn’t the only film being scrutinized by the UK ratings system: Yorgos Lanthimos’ Oscar-nominated “Poor Things” was recut to land a certified 18 rating by the BBFC. The modified scene included a brothel sequence in which Bella Baxter (Emma Stone) teaches two young boys how to have sex as they watch her and their father consummate.

When the MPA gives a rating, a filmmaker can either accept that rating or appeal the ruling, or they can re-edit the film to attempt for a different rating. The MPA deals with roughly 1-3 appeals each year.

Additional reporting by Brian Welk

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