British film censors have added a warning about racial stereotypes to Flash Gordon, saying the character of Ming the Merciless is “dubious, if not downright offensive”.
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) said it now had to keep in mind discriminatory portrayals that “are no longer acceptable to modern audiences” when older films are to be reclassified.
Ming was “coded as an East Asian character due to his hairstyle and makeup” in the 1980 film, but was played by the late Swedish actor. Max von Sydow.
BBFC Senior Policy Officer Matt Tindall spoke about the issue in a podcast chronicling the year of the film.
âThe Flash’s nemesis, Ming the Merciless, is sort of coded as an East Asian character because of his hairstyle and makeup,â he said.
“But he’s played by a Swedish actor in the movie, he’s played by Max von Sydow, which I think isn’t something that would happen if it was a modern production.”
Mr Tindall said the BBFC was aware that this was something viewers “may find questionable, if not downright offensive”.
He continued: “Let’s just say that attitudes towards the acceptability of discriminatory racial stereotypes have evolved considerably since then and rightly so, of course.”
The organization reclassified Flash Gordon to Category 12A – more stringent than its original A rating, which roughly equates to a PG today – due to scenes of violence “that go beyond what you would expect in the lower category, “moderate coarse language” and “some verbal sexual references” that exceed the PG level.
Mr Tindall said Ming’s appearance in the film was not a “category definition issue” but that the organization had added a disclaimer due to “the potential he has to offend.”
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He said: “This is something we have to keep in mind often when we see older films coming in for reclassification, films that might contain discriminatory portrayals or stereotypes that are not acceptable to modern audiences. including films where the discrimination was not the work of the work intended, just a reflection of the period in which it was made.
“And this is an issue that we currently plan to explore further through research next year.”
Earlier this year, the epic of the American Civil War of 1939 Gone with the Wind has been temporarily removed by US streaming service HBO Max, later coming back with a warning about its “racist portrayals” which were “false then and are false today.”
In the United Kingdom, a comedy show Little Brittany has been removed from some streaming services due to the use of blackface in some of its skits.