Hays code

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Front page of the Production Code
Will H. Hays of vehemently for the introduction Production code one, which therefore also called colloquially Hays Code is known

The Hays Code (or Production Code ) was a compilation of guidelines for the production of US American films , by means of which morally acceptable representations, especially of crime , sexual and political content, were regulated and monitored.

The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc. (MPPDA, today MPA ), the umbrella organization of US film production companies, adopted the code in 1930, initially on a voluntary basis; In view of the threat of censorship laws on the part of the government, however, it became mandatory for film production companies from 1934. In 1967 the code was abolished.


Prehistory and origin

As early as 1907, the relatively new medium of cinema had become the favorite pastime of Americans, of whom more than two million visited one of the more than 3,000 Nickelodeons across the country every day . The Nickelodeons were cheap, and there were no legal requirements for opening times or age restrictions on entry. The first criticism of these pre-forms of cinema was directed less against the content of the films than against the social environment in which the Nickelodeons stood. The social associations, which were already powerful at the time, propagated that the films would educate young people, who could not distinguish between fiction and reality, to immorality and crime. The unhealthy social environment around the locations of the cinemas would encourage this development.

In 1907, under pressure from local church and social interest groups, the Chicago City Council first gave the police the task of granting or refusing licenses to show films if the content was immoral or obscene. The “ healthy and uplifting mental attitude of the average citizen” was used as the benchmark for the assessment . It was left to the respective censor and his or her personal assessments to make the decision on a case-by-case basis.

The film industry reacted to this approach as early as 1909 and after the ban on two westerns, the producers' lawyers disputed the legality of the censorship. The lawsuit remained unsuccessful and in the following period there were a large number of ordinances and laws at local level across the country, which dealt with the interpretation of these guidelines and specified the interpretation. The consequences were extreme heterogeneity and increasing dissatisfaction on the part of the producers, who, in view of the increasing randomness of the specifications, had considerable problems in choosing the right film material. When an alliance of progressive social associations finally proposed voluntary self-regulation to the film producers, the producers agreed.

The National Board of Review (NBR), which was composed of “ innocent ” citizens, was supposed to review, rate and suggest cuts. A seven-point program served as a guideline for objectifying the procedure, although it suffered from a certain arbitrariness and ambiguity of the points from the start. After that were banned ( prohibited ):

English German
obscenity in all forms Profanity in all forms
vulgarity when it offends or when it verges toward indecency, unless an adequate moral purpose is served Vulgarity when it is offensive or when it borders on immorality unless it serves a reasonable moral purpose
the representation of crime in such a detailed way as may teach the methods of committing crime except of winning to the whole public The depiction of crime in such a detailed form as the depiction of methods encourages the commission of criminal offenses, except when it is used for clarification
morbid scenes of crime, where the only value of the scene is morbidity or criminal appeal Morbid criminal scenes whose only value is the portrayal of the morbidity or the crime
the unnecessary elaboration or prolongation of scenes of suffering, brutality, vulgarity, violence or crime The unnecessary, more extensive emphasis or prolongation of scenes with suffering, brutality, meanness, violence or crime
blasphemy blasphemy
scenes of films which because of elements frequently very subtle they contain, have a deteriorating tendency on the basic moralities or necessary social standards Scenes from films which, because of their often subtle content, tend to spoil basic moral or necessary social norms

When voices were raised in the United States Congress in the early 1920s calling for a national censorship law , the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association was formed in 1922 . This removed the risk of a uniform censorship law and the responsibility for compliance with the requirements was delegated back to the film industry. Will H. Hays , a former campaign manager for Republican President Warren G. Harding , was established as chairman and promised to put together a set of moral principles for filmmakers to adhere to.

1930 to 1934 - The Hays Code as voluntary self-regulation

After much preparation, Will Hays' office first published a list of Don'ts (don't do that!) And Be Carefuls (be careful) in 1927 and, on March 31, 1930, a formal version of this list, now called Production Code .

This was largely ignored by filmmakers. There was simply no mechanism to enforce the demands. In addition, the country found itself in the late 1920s and early 1930s in a great economic crisis ( Great Depression ), and the American filmmakers reflected the reality of life in sometimes very realistic films about poverty and violence. Gangster films, some of which contained very brutal scenes, were in vogue and were often accused of turning gangsters into more or less romantic heroes and glorifying violence. “Confessional films” were also popular, which more or less inevitably showed the heroine as a prostitute or a rich man's lover. Many heroines had illegitimate children and spent copious footage searching for husbands. The films are known today as pre-code films .

The dispute about increased film censorship intensified due to two events: Mae West shot two films in 1933 that dealt very openly with the topic of sexuality, even if only verbally. And Paramount, who already had Mae West under contract, shot the film The Story of Temple Drake based on the novel The Sanctuary by William Faulkner , despite an express ban from the censorship authorities . The portrayal of a young woman from a good family who lived with the perpetrator after being raped outraged the Catholic Church in particular, which demanded more effective film censorship with massive pressure.

Tightening and enforcement of the code

With the advent and popularity of talkies, and the deterioration in the situation mentioned above, it was felt that there was an urgent need for a means of effectively enforcing the Code. The Production Code Administration (PCA) was therefore founded on June 13, 1934 . From now on, all new films had to be reviewed by this office. If the film was in accordance with the requirements of the code, it could be published. Violations were fined $ 25,000, and - far worse - it was not allowed to show in the MPPDA theaters, which included the major premiere theaters. This made the Hays Code the standard for filmmakers in the USA. Scenes that the code could consider prohibited or dangerous were not even filmed.

The Catholic Legion of Decency , founded in 1933, represented around 20 million Catholics in the United States and was able to turn unpopular films into an economic failure by calling for a boycott . In order to avoid penalties and boycott measures, screenwriters and directors were also very creative in the indirect representation of sex or violence scenes. For example, acts of violence were allowed to take place off- screen , and the sex act was symbolized . An example of this is the end of the film in The Invisible Third by Alfred Hitchcock : The heroes Thornhill and Eve find themselves as a married couple in the sleeping car of a train, kissing in the couchette, and the train drives into a tunnel.

From the mid-1930s onwards, the PCA, in cooperation with government authorities, increasingly strictly regulated and monitored the political standards of the film industry. At the latest when the United States entered World War II , all films had to be submitted to the PCA, which was now directly assigned to the United States Office of War Information (OWI). All studios were under the government and had the task of supporting the warfare of the USA. The OWI was an additional instrument for controlling the content of American film production and issued licenses from June 1942, without which no film could be made.

In 1944 the PCA was incorporated into the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals , the executive body of which was the Committee for Un-American Activities (HUAC). Even if the focus there was on political censorship, censorship with regard to sexual content continued to take place under the direction of Joseph Breen in the so-called Breen Office . American film censorship reached its peak between 1947 and around 1956, what is now known as the McCarthy era . During this time, filmmakers suspected of being sympathetic to the left were summoned to appear before the HUAC and given the choice of working with it or risking prison sentences. At the same time, a group of representatives from Hollywood film studios decided to stop employing suspected film artists, which was tantamount to ending their careers in the film industry . This was the starting point for the so-called black list .

The end of the code

The code has become increasingly difficult to enforce since the late 1950s. Films like Anatomy of a Murder , Suddenly Last Summer , Embers under the Ashes and All My Dreams dealt more or less explicitly with topics that have not been the subject of entertainment films until now. In the 1960s the code was still pro forma into force and was only in 1967 by the new president of the MPAA , Jack Valenti abolished. A year later, it was replaced by a voluntary rating system that is still in place today.

Web links


  • Leonard J. Leff, Jerold L. Simmons: The Dame in the Kimono. Hollywood, Censorship and the Production Code from the 1920's to the 1960's. Anchor Books, New York NY 1991, ISBN 0-385-41722-5 (English).
  • Vito Russo : The Celluloid Closet . Homosexuality in the Movies. Revised edition. Quality Paperback Book Club, New York NY 1981, ISBN 0-06-096132-5 (English); filmed in 1995.
  • Richard A. Brisbin Jr .: Censorship, Ratings, and Rights. Political Order and Sexual Portrayals in American Movies. In: Studies in American Political Development. 16, 2002, ISSN  0898-588X , pp. 1-27.

Individual evidence

  1. Juliane Scholz: The screenwriter. USA - Germany. A historical comparison. Transcript Verlag, 2016, pp. 205 ff.
  2. Lee Grieveson: Policing cinema: movies and censorship in early-twentieth-century America . S. 254 .
  3. Juliane Scholz: The screenwriter. USA - Germany. A historical comparison. Transcript Verlag, 2016, pp. 205 ff.
  4. CENSORSHIP: Erotica for household use . In: Spiegel Online . tape July 27 , 1953 ( spiegel.de [accessed June 20, 2019]).
  5. ^ Brian Neve: Film and Politics in America. A social tradition. Routledge, Oxon, 1992, pp. 89-90, p. 171, p. 174.