6 Sneaky Ways Movies and TV Shows Outsmarted the Censors
We all assume that, to some degree, movies and TV shows are being held back by the tyrannical hand of censorship, and most of the time we're right. But some creatives aren't so easy to push around -- they have a message, dammit, and they'll do anything they can to get it to the people, even if it means lies, deception, or hot interracial make-out sessions. They'll take that bullet ... for art.
William Shatner Forced NBC to Air the First Interracial Kiss
In 1968, the Star Trek cast and ocrew were filming the episode "Plato's Stepchildren," which featured aliens using mind control to force Captain Kirk (William Shatner) to make out with Communications Officer Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). You know: standard classic Star Trek stuff. Star Trek just wasn't Star Trek if Kirk wasn't being goaded by an alien god into some sort of sexual harassment. But when it came time to shoot that scene, the director and some NBC suits got uncomfortable -- not because of the weird consent issues (this was the '60s, after all; slapping a woman was considered foreplay), but because Nichols is black. Up until that point, scripted interracial kisses on television just weren't done. The actors wanted to shoot the scene as it was, but since they weren't in charge, there was only one thing they could do: sabotage.
No, not by blowing up the studio. They didn't have the budget.
Show creator Gene Roddenberry had suggested a compromise: they'd shoot two versions of the scene, one with the kiss, and one with a hug, and use whichever worked better. Everyone knew which version NBC was going to want to use, but luckily Shatner had a plan. See, a director can't see exactly what the camera is picking up -- only the camera operator can. So while they were shooting the versions of the scene that would preserve the purity of the white race, Shatner positioned himself so that the director couldn't see his face, stared right into the camera, and made a bunch of stupid faces.
Stupider than usual, which is really saying something.
The director, thinking he'd won, immediately called a wrap and sent everyone home. It wasn't until they were going over the dailies that they realized what had happened. They were forced to run the scene as originally scripted, resigning themselves to having to face an explosion of controversy that (twist!) never happened.
Truly, it was a leap forward for human rights, although whether Shatner was fighting for the progression of society or just couldn't stand to miss an opportunity to get busy on national television is anybody's guess.
The MPAA Accidentally Made South Park More Disgusting
Given the track record of Matt Stone and Trey Parker's show South Park, it's no surprise that the MPAA changed their movie a lot -- but no one expected those changes to make the movie dirtier. According to Stone and Parker, every time the MPAA told them a scene was too raunchy for an R-rating, they'd submit what they thought was even worse, and, to their surprise, the more disgusting example was always given the green light.
"Cum-sucking ass"? Out. "Donkey-raping shiteater"? In!
For example, there's a scene in the movie where the kids discover a porn flick starring Cartman's mother. Originally the video was of a woman having sex with a horse, but after the MPAA shot it down, they resubmitted a longer version where she ate human feces. They meant it as a big fat "fuck you for trying to tell us what to do," but the censors thought it was fine.
The same thing supposedly happened with the title: The original name was South Park: All Hell Breaks Loose, but since movies aren't allowed to have "hell" in the title (a rule the MPAA has steadfastly defended forever without compromise), they resubmitted it as South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut -- which was accepted. The MPAA denies this, of course, because otherwise they'd have to admit that they let a boner joke slip past them unchanged, and we all know the MPAA never lets a boner slip by untouched.
That thing in the bed isn't a boner either. It's a toy.
Stone goes so far as to say that this trend is the main reason we've never seen a director's cut of their movie -- all the nastiest stuff they thought up actually made it into the theaters. The actual "uncut" version would be, if anything, tamer.
The Maltese Falcon Used Secret Gay Slang to Gay Up the Whole Genre
The Maltese Falcon set the gold standard for the film noir genre. Take the foppish villain character, Joel Cairo, for example: Vaguely homosexual villains are sadly all too common in modern cinema, but it was unusual for the time. The difference here is that Cairo, played with marvelous sliminess by Peter Lorre, was not "vaguely homosexual" or otherwise ambiguous at all -- he was, for the time, flamboyant, at one point even openly fellating a cane until Humphrey Bogart, plainly uncomfortable with the natural love between a man and a walking stick, looks away in disgust.
That's why he was billed as the mysterious "Marmite miner."
It might not seem outlandish now, but at the time the film was released, any reference to homosexuality was explicitly banned by a strict doctrine of censorship rules known as the Hays Code. And that's not all The Maltese Falcon got away with: Toward the unraveling climax of the film, Sam Spade looks directly at one of the more weaselly henchmen and calls him a hobo's gay sex slave. Did you miss that classic line? Can't picture Bogart casually slurring "You like it from the bum in more ways than one, fella"? That's understandable, considering that the line in question only made it into the film because no one involved in censoring at the time understood gay slang.
Here's Sam Spade referring to Wilmer Cook as a "gunsel" (an old hobo term for a submissive young gay man): "Let's give him the gunsel. He actually did shoot Thursby and Jacoby, didn't he?" Notice the careful way that's worded -- the unfamiliar term, in context, seems to imply that "gunsel" means something like "gunslinger." And to be fair, it kinda did -- just not the type of "guns" the censors were thinking of. None of them bothered to take the time to whip out the Big Gay Dictionary of Hobo Sex Slang to confirm.
Today, not even the dictionary remembers the pre-Falcon usage.
It turns out the mistake had precedent: The exact same trick had worked for author Dashiell Hammett years earlier when he was writing the hard-boiled detective novel The Maltese Falcon was based on. His editor left "gunsel" in because he, like the Hays Code guys, didn't recognize the word.
Even more ridiculous, the word "gunsel" started catching on in other detective thrillers ... as a reference to a hired gun. And that's why all of our modern thugs are flamboyant homosexuals. It's true -- just ask the next time you see one. They'll be happy to confirm.
Taxi Driver Brainwashes the MPAA With Uber-Violence
Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver was a goulash of controversy: There's Swedish porn. There's preteen prostitution. There's an attempted assassination of a presidential candidate by the friggin' protagonist. And all of that was topped off with a graphic climax in which Robert De Niro's character shoots up a sex hotel. You've got fingers flying:
This man gave the scene a thumb's up.
And knives going through hands:
Not the same hand that lost the fingers, mind you. That would have hurt.
Bullets in the neck, bullets in the torso, bullets in the head painting brains on the wall:
Creating the sex hotel's cleanest surface.
And assuming you take the film's closing scene at face value, murderous Travis Bickle doesn't even pay for his sins. He's hailed a hero and gets away scot-free. The film would obviously be rated at least an R; the only question was whether they'd get slapped with the dreaded X rating.
The filmmakers had an ingenious plan to make sure that didn't happen: nothing. They just repeatedly sent the MPAA copies of the same film each time the ratings agency tried to give it an X. They didn't actually cut any of the gore or violence -- the only change they made was to desaturate the color of the blood a little bit. But over time, says producer Michael Phillips, the MPAA simply became desensitized to the scenes from watching them over and over again -- the very desensitization to violence that moral guardians fear comes from watching violent films. Soon, the producers got credit for cutting content when they'd actually removed nothing. On the one hand, that's awesome, because we got a classic movie out of it, but on the other hand ... that's super awesome, because they completely broke the minds of an entire MPAA review board with Clockwork Orange-style brainwashing.
Wes Craven Straight Up Stole a Rating
The Last House on the Left is an icon of horror that not only launched director Wes Craven's career, but also launched the entire "Let's substitute outlandish torture for plot" genre. It's known for its intense scenes of rape, chainsaw murder, and we don't need a third example because we already have rape and chainsaw murder.
Watching the movie today, you can't help but wonder how Craven ever got away with an R rating. The truth is, he didn't.
When The Last House on the Left was submitted for rating, the MPAA insisted on cutting so much that the final product was only 60 minutes long. After struggling to edit together a coherent story with so little footage, producer Sean Cunningham finally just said "to hell with it," put all the horrifying stuff back in, and spliced in some official MPAA R-rated footage from another movie that was being put together down the hall. You'd assume that somebody is on hand to check these things, or that there's some code that makes the rating footage specific to the film or something -- but nope! Everything turned out fine. No one had any idea The Last House on the Left was released as an unrated film until Craven told the story decades later in a documentary.
The MPAA then tried arresting him, only to learn that they have no official authority whatsoever.
This bears repeating: Craven stole a rating, released an uncensored version of a film that he had already sent in for review (and was subsequently rejected), then had the balls to market it as being ridiculously violent, and no one at the MPAA ever noticed. Man, we're starting to think you could slap the devil's erect cock in a film and walk away whistlin' Dixie ...
Seth Rogen Slaps the Devil's Erect Cock in a Film, Walks Away Whistlin' Dixie
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg had an R-rated comedy on their hands with This Is the End and really wanted to avoid the box-office-poison NC-17 stamp. They figured the mass deaths that spark off the movie's apocalypse wouldn't raise any red flags -- they were pretty tame, and nobody really misses Michael Cera -- but later, there's a demonic rape scene.
Not Jonah Hill's first sex scene, believe it or not.
We're not using "demonic" as hyperbole here: About an hour into the film, a demon rapes Jonah Hill. The scene is played up for laughs and doesn't depict anything too graphic, but obviously all rape is considered a bit of a touchy subject. Figuring this scene could cost them dearly with the MPAA, Rogen and Goldberg took advice from their distributor, Sony, and tried a risky tactic: They flooded the censors with needless objectionable material, hoping they would only ask that the outlandish stuff be cut and leave what the filmmakers wanted in the first place intact. So in the demon rape scene, they went out of their way to depict the demon's erect penis.
An erect penis is a huge (well, depending on the dude) no-no in an R-rated film, even during loving, consensual sex. So it seemed like a good plan: throw a demon cock at the censors and slip a rape scene by when they're ducking for cover. But you know how it is -- once you pop, you just can't stop rendering giant evil dicks on film. Right at the end of the movie, we're treated to the sight of a skyscraper-size Satan, his semi-truck of a dick swinging in the burning wind. The magical blue light of heaven slices the member right off, and poor Satan picks up his disembodied wang and wails.
To him, it's like the world is ending.
The men sent their cut to the MPAA and waited for feedback. They hoped the graphic cock shots would get cut and the content they actually wanted to keep would stick around.
As Seth Rogen once said: It just takes one fan of dick jokes giggling, and then the whole room will be happy to see your penis.
We might be paraphrasing a bit there.
Related Reading: Sometimes censorship can be hilarious. Case in point: "Yippie-ki-yay, Mister Falcon!" And of course there's the utterly wordless Frank Zappa album that somehow earned a "Parental Advisory" sticker. Ready for more of Big Brother's failures? Click right here.
Check out Robert Evans' A Brief History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization, a celebration of the brave, drunken pioneers who built our civilization one seemingly bad decision at a time.