What does 12A mean? UK cinema film rating explained, why Barbie movie is a 12A certificate, is it for kids?

Barbie delves into some surprisingly mature themes, but is it suitable for kids?

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When news broke about a live-action Barbie movie many expected a delightful family-friendly film with little to no edge, celebrating the iconic children's doll.

But, perhaps surprisingly, the final film - directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie - received a 12A certificate. What's not unexpected from a director such as Gerwig, known for her thought-provoking storytelling, is that Barbie delves into some surprisingly mature themes.

So what exactly does the 12A certificate mean, and why has this Barbie adaptation received such a rating from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC)? Should you be allowing your young, Barbie-loving children to watch this latest cinematic offering? Here's all you need to know.

Don't worry, they're just rollerskates (Image: Warner Bros. Pictures)Don't worry, they're just rollerskates (Image: Warner Bros. Pictures)
Don't worry, they're just rollerskates (Image: Warner Bros. Pictures)

What is the 12A certificate?

The 12A film certificate was introduced in the UK in July 2002. The first film to be given a 12A rating was Austin Powers in Goldmember.

The 12A certificate allows children under 12 to watch the film in a cinema if accompanied by an adult, which was a significant change from the previous 12 rating, where under-12s were prohibited entirely. For films that target both adolescents and adults, the 12A rating allows families to watch together without excluding younger members.

The idea was to enable parents and guardians to decide whether a particular film was appropriate for their children based on the film's content and their individual maturity level.

What is allowed in a 12A film?

Over the years, there have been instances where viewers and critics have debated whether certain films should have been certified 12A instead of 15. Likewise, some have argued that specific films under the 12A category contained content that might be too intense or unsuitable for younger audiences.

However, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) periodically reviews its guidelines and takes feedback into consideration to ensure the ratings remain relevant and effective, but the line between the 12A and 15 categories can sometimes be subjective and open to interpretation.

Regarding swearing, the guidelines state that "infrequent use of strong language may be allowed." However, the use of strong language should not be aggressive or directed at a specific target. The context and impact of the language are taken into account when assigning the rating.

For violent content, the BBFC guidelines state that "moderate violence is allowed but should not dwell on detail." This means that while some violence is acceptable, excessive or graphic violence is not permitted in '12A' rated films.

Regarding sexual content, the guidelines state that "sexual activity may be implied, but should be discreet and infrequent." The focus is on not presenting detailed or prolonged sexual scenes.

The BBFC takes into consideration the overall tone, impact, and theme of the film when assigning a rating, and assesses the cumulative effect of different elements (e.g. language, violence, sexual content) rather than focusing solely on individual instances.

Why is Barbie a 12A?

According to the BBFC, Barbie is rated a 12A due to "moderate innuendo", "brief sexual harassment" and "implied strong language".

In terms of violence, the film contains "comic" fight scenes which include "undetailed punches, kicks, headbutts and use of improvised weapons."

"There is a use of bleeped strong language ('motherf**ker')," says the BBFC, "as well as moderate bad language (‘bitch’) and milder terms such as 'crap', 'God', 'hell' and 'damn'. Moderate innuendo includes occasional gags about 'beaching off' and 'sugar daddies'.

"There is a scene of sexual harassment in which men catcall a woman and make inappropriate comments about her appearance. A man slaps a woman's bottom, however, his behaviour is immediately challenged and results in negative consequences.

"There are occasional verbal references to death and mental health. Occasional references are made to patriarchal attitudes about women’s roles in society. These attitudes are clearly condemned and satirised."

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