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The Full Story

            Censorship and Cinema


Course Overview:

A Century of Media Censorship:

The battle over censoring content in modern mass media is a timely and challenging topic. One has to look no further than examining contemporary war coverage and political decision-making to understand the importance of critical analysis in asking what information is kept from the public and why it is banned from public discourse.


This course begins with a discussion of contemporary battles of media content, setting the stage for a broader discussion of censorship battles that occurred in the media over the past century. The first films date back to the late 1890’s, and while quite tame by modern standards, many early motion pictures still found themselves the ob- ject of censorship during their earliest public presentations. This was the beginning of what can be referred to as the ‘Hollywood Censorship Wars’ – a century long battle that continues to this day.


Because of the complex nature of banning media content, Censorship, Hollywood and American Culture exam- ines censorship from a variety of perspectives that are at the heart of both the social sciences and humanities:



An understanding of the history of censorship and media as they pertain to:


Historic Institutions: The censorship of films was not done in a vacuum. Censorship was and remains a reflec- tion of America’s history over the past century. Censorship standards have continuously changed, with films produced and released half a century ago facing censorship battles today, while many other films produced at the same time and banned are releasable today. Censorship standards stand as a clear mirror to societal values over the past century.


Politics: From the censorship of the post world war one feature “Hearts of the World’ to contemporary media being banned from showing images of war and conflict in countries today, politics has played an important part in defining what is or isn’t allowed to be shown.


Religion: One of the earliest groups to fight against movie picture exhibition were church groups. Movie ex- hibitors were banned from showing films on Sundays – facing jail time if they disobeyed local ordinances. Local townships also had local censor boards that reviewed films for moral content-cutting scenes with scissors. The early religious involvement in film content eventually grew to national campaigns against the entire film industry, especially during the 1930’s, with Father Coughlin’s ‘Catholic Hour’ creating a ‘Legion of Decency’ against Holly- wood.


Performing Arts: Because of the important role censorship had in limiting content of film and television shows, media historians have written extensively about the effects of censorship battles on the industry. Areas examined include film content, studio operations, rules of exhibition as well as the actual imagery of the film itself.


American Cultural Studies: Since film has proven to be such an important influence on American culture over the past decade, the battle of censorship found itself tied to much larger social issues, including race, religion and ethnic bias. It is within this context that one must look at race relations at the turn of the century, especially the censorship battles over D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation – a film that has been called by some film historians the most banned (and racist) film in American history.

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