Why has Mary Poppins’ UK age rating been and what prompted its reclassification?

Mary Poppins' rating has been lifted from a U to PG over 'discriminatory language'. Credit: Walt Disney

The original version of the film Mary Poppins has been changed from a U rating to PG rating because it contains "discriminatory language".

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has reviewed the 1964 classic over the use of the word "Hottentots" - a term now considered racially offensive.

In the film, Admiral Boom - played by actor Reginald Owen - uses the word when he asks one of the children if they were going to "fight the Hottentots".

He uses it again, when the chimney sweeps with soot-covered faces are seen by the Admiral, and he says they are being "attacked by the Hottentots".

A film with a U certificate means it’s suitable for children aged 4 and older.

Here, ITV News explains why the term is derogatory and what prompts the BBFC's decision to review movies.

Where does the term Hottentot originate from?

The word Hottenton refers to the Khoekhoe, the indigenous people of South Africa and Namibia. It was initially coined by Dutch settlers who arrived in the region in 1650s.

While the etymology of the word has never been established, it is widely assumed to be linked to a Dutch phrase for stutter, applied to the Khoekhoe on account of the distinctive click consonants in their languages. The word had entered English usage in the 17th century.

Why is it considered racist?

In earlier usage of the word, Hottentot was a term used to denote all Black people or as a reference specifically to the Khoekhoe people.

However, from the 18th century onwards it was used as a term of abuse, comparable to barbarian.

In modern language, the reduced form "hotnot" has also been borrowed into South African English as a derogatory term for Black people.

A BBFC spokesperson told ITV News: "While Mary Poppins has a historical context, the use of discriminatory language is not condemned, and ultimately exceeds our guidelines for acceptable language at U. We therefore classified the film PG for discriminatory language.

"...We understand from our racism and discrimination research, and recent classification guidelines research, that a key concern for people, parents in particular, is the potential to expose children to discriminatory language or behaviour which they may find distressing or repeat without realising the potential offence.

Jack Black-led comedy School of Rock was recently raised from a PG rating to a 12A. Credit: Paramount

What prompted the BBFC to lift or downgrade ratings?

As British audience attitudes shift, it has become necessary to reclassify films according to the latest guidelines.

The BBFC consults the public every four years to establish a standard of acceptability in which it holds the industry to.

For this reason, if the distributor of a film hopes to see it re-released in cinemas - as in the case of Mary Poppins - it needs to be reviewed by the BBFC.

A BBFC spokesperson added: "We only review (and potentially reclassify) previously classified content when it's been formally resubmitted to us.

"There are different scenarios in which content may be resubmitted to us by a distributor.

"For example, this could be ahead of an upcoming cinema re-release, or a new release on DVD, Blu-ray or other home entertainment formats."

What other films have had their rating change?

The BBFC has historically lowered more ratings than raise them.

Brad Pitt’s Fight Club was downgraded from an 18 rating to 15 despite its portrayal of “sequences of graphic and brutal violence”.

But there are cases were ratings have been raised, such as Pixar’s Ratatouille, which was reclassified by the BBFC from a U to a PG rating due to instances of “comic violence” and “mild bad language”.

Dinosaur thriller Jurassic Park, previously rated PG, was reclassified to 12A last year for "moderate threat, violence, bloody images."

Jack Black-led comedy School of Rock, also originally rated PG, was raised to 12A in 2023 for "moderate bad language, discriminatory terms, rude humour."

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