Lawmakers approve film ratings board

The Cayman Islands will soon have its own cinema ratings board operating independently of international film ratings agencies and maintaining the ability to locally censor or classify movies that do not currently have a rating. 

Lawmakers unanimously approved the Film Exhibition Control Bill Friday which will replace the old Cinematograph Law. 

In detailing the changes sought by the bill, Commerce Minister Wayne Panton said, in most cases, there would be no reason for the three-person ratings board – called the Film Control Board – to change ratings already given to films by bodies such as the Motion Picture Association of America. 

However, anyone who wants to show a movie in the Cayman Islands would have to notify the new board in advance. If the movie does not already carry a rating from internationally recognized film censors, the board will consider its content and decide what age group is suitable to view it. The board also has the option of banning a movie from being screened if it considers it “unsuitable for viewership in the islands.” 

The three-person Film Control Board, which has yet to be appointed, can consider a number of factors when issuing a rating including whether the film’s content is seditious, obscene or blasphemous; whether it shows violence, nudity, drug use or offensive language; the literary or artistic value of the movie and whether the film is considered to be in the “public interest.” 

Movies that do carry international ratings can be reclassified if the board wishes to do so, but Minister Panton said those films do not have to apply to obtain a rating. 

Films that do not carry a rating, such as locally made movies or some independent films shown at film festivals, will be required to pay a $25 fee to receive a rating before they can be screened. 

“The primary goal here is to protect children from harmful film content through requirements for clear and understandable labeling of films through a new ratings system,” Minister Panton said while introducing the bill to the Legislative Assembly Friday. “The burden of protecting children from harmful content in any medium is generally that of the parents, so that has to be recognized. 

“Contrary to some misperceptions stated in the media … this is not the government’s attempt to act as a censor or to take on the role that rightly belongs to parents. This government is seeking to fulfill its role which … allows for the protection of minors, allows businesses to operate successfully and at the same time protect consumers.” 

Minister Panton said the bill provides for an exemption in relation to film festivals and other public screenings where “you typically have the potential for large numbers of unrated films to be exhibited, therefore consideration is necessary to ensuring a balance between this positive international exposure and respect for our local culture.” 

Section 36 of the bill states: “The minister may determine that a person who wishes to publicly exhibit a film shall, subject to any specified terms and conditions, be exempted from the provisions of this law relating to the application procedures for a rating certificate and a premises license.” 

George Town MLA Joey Hew said the government realizes the massive potential created by events such as the CayFilm Festival, hosted here over the past weekend, to help develop talents of aspiring Caymanian filmmakers and actors. 

“We have to foster that talent and encourage these young people to tell their story, but we have to have them tell it in a responsible fashion,” Mr. Hew said. “We cannot … risk having the industry start off with a sour note and restrict these young people from really enhancing their lives … by developing their talents and perhaps one day going on to be another Grace Gealey or another Frank E. Flowers.”