The Globe and Mail and other sources recently reported that the Culture Minister in Quebec has asked the Régie du cinéma to consider adding an appropriate warning notice for films that depict suicide. Quebec has the highest suicide rates in Canada, and the idea of a suicide warning for films is supported by suicide prevention groups in the province. However, like many censorship initiatives, the call for a suicide warning started with a parent concerned about what his children saw in a movie.
A father took two of his children to see a movie, three weeks after their mother committed suicide. The movie was Open Water, and in the course of the film, a major character commits suicide. The father did not know the film included a suicide. In his words, “I wanted to protect my children and didn’t want a film to aggravate an already difficult situation.” He formed an association, collected signatures on a petition, and the petition was submitted to the Quebec government last Thursday.
One of the advantages of government controlled film ratings and censorship in a democracy is that the censors must respond to the demands of the people. So it is entirely reasonable for the Quebec government to investigate the notion of adding a suicide warning notice to films. However, hopefully the outcome will not be a suicide warning notice, but a better assessment of the age appropriateness of films.
If you are considering a film for you and your children, and don’t spend a lot of time researching the film, you don’t have much to go on. The trailer for Open Water suggests this is going to end badly, as do the reviews, but if you’ve just arrived at the theatre and are picking a film from the posters, you might rely on the ratings.
In addition to the thematic elements that might affect the rating, Open Water has a little nudity and some swearing. Not much, but enough to earn a Restricted rating from the conservative American MPAA. Australia decided this was a film for Mature audiences, and the British Board of Film Classification rated it 15. Across Canada, the provincial boards rated it similarly, generally noting it as requiring adult accompaniment for children under 14. The one exception was Quebec. Unfazed by language and nudity, the Régie awarded a G rating. However, they did add a warning: “Not Recommended for Young Children” (i.e children under age eight).
Rating based on thematic elements, including suicide, is harder than counting swears and body parts, but parents often assume a G rating means the film is suitable for all ages. The boards should be aware of that, and classify films appropriately. Suicide is only one of many thematic elements that could be disturbing for children. Rather than try and warn about all of the elements that might be upsetting, the Régie should ensure that the age rating they assign is not misleading.