Super Sneaky Ways Movies And TV Shows Beat The Censors

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Vote up the slyest work-arounds for censorship that creators have used.

During the American Prohibition era of the 1920s, public opinion was overwhelmingly morally conservative, favoring government restriction over everything from certain types of clothing to alcohol. As the film industry blossomed and public outcry grew against what it deemed indecency, Hollywood producers worried that federal regulations would soon crack down on their movies. In 1922, producers founded the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA, later changed to MPAA), led by William H. Hays. Hays wanted Hollywood to lead the way in establishing an ethical materials code to avoid outside interference from the government, so with the introduction of the Hays Code in 1930, film directors had to start finding ways to get around the censors. In 1968, the MPAA established its ratings system, which is still in use today.

From slipping coded language by the MPAA to perfecting the clever art of desensitization, the ways movies and shows avoided censorship are almost as creative as the shows and movies themselves. These risky maneuvers can sometimes backfire into movies with unexplained moments, but the oft-subversive ways movies got away with things have only made them more interesting to viewers. 

The sneaky scenes in which TV and movies beat the censors have often made for more memorable on-screen moments. Censors might be annoying, but constraints like ratings force filmmakers to be creative; it's because of censors that we get the entire film noir genre, after all. While uncensored TV shows and movies have their own appeal, sometimes filmmakers have more fun slipping things by under the radar than if they were just allowed to do whatever they wanted. That's what makes these sometimes controversial films and TV shows so much fun; with a wink and a nudge, viewers get to be in on the joke.


  • 1
    1,184 VOTES

    An Attempt To Slip By Literary Censors For 'The Maltese Falcon' Also Worked On The Film

    Film noir came about because of Hollywood censors; the genre wouldn't exist at all if it weren't for restrictions on showing crime, violence, and sexual content in movies through the 1960s. But The Maltese Falcon is a particularly interesting example, because both the writer of the original novel, Dashiell Hammett, and screenwriter John Huston both slipped a reference to one of the characters in the story being gay by their censors.

    Because the word "gunsel" - archaic slang for a submissive gay man - contains the word "gun," the MPAA assumed it was referring to the character's role as a gun-toting henchman. The trick worked twice, both for Hammett against his editor in the original, and against the MPPDA (the MPAA's original name) and the Hays Code for Huston.

  • 2
    1,857 VOTES

    The Fonz’s Leather Jacket Came With A Strange Price Tag In 'Happy Days'

    The Fonz’s Leather Jacket Came With A Strange Price Tag In 'Happy Days'
    Photo: ABC

    Just thinking of The Fonz from Happy Days likely summons up an image of a plain white t-shirt and leather jacket. That leather jacket, however, made for some interesting scenes. In the early days of the show, the studio was concerned that his leather jacket made him look like a crook, and demanded that he only wear it when he was near his motorcycle. "Sure," said the showrunners. They certainly committed; the Fonz was never without his motorcycle, even when it didn’t make sense. Outdoors, indoors, it didn't matter; his motorcycle was always there. The character's popularity eventually made the studio drop the rule, but the weird scenes remain.

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    2,139 VOTES

    TV’s First Interracial Kiss Was Almost Censored From 'Star Trek'

    TV’s First Interracial Kiss Was Almost Censored From 'Star Trek'
    Photo: NBC

    Star Trek is famous for breaking early boundaries in television. One of the most notable was that it was the first TV show to feature a kiss between two people of different races. Captain Kirk (William Shatner), and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), were supposed to kiss during a scene in which the characters were mind controlled. The network, circa 1968, was nervous about two characters of different races sharing a kiss.

    Originally, to pacify Southern affiliates of the channel, the producers were going to shoot an extra scene in which the two didn't kiss. But that effort didn't go as planned, as Shatner kept deliberately screwing up the take by looking into the camera, making faces, and crossing his eyes. After so many flubbed takes, the network just ran the scene as planned.

  • 4
    1,147 VOTES

    Desensitization - Or Exhaustion - Kept The Carnage In 'Taxi Driver' Intact

    Taxi Driver is known for being an incredibly violent movie. It wouldn’t be a surprise to hear that it was originally more violent until the MPAA got its hands on it, but in fact, Taxi Driver is exactly the movie the filmmakers set out to make. How? Persistence. Every time the MPAA requested a change to the film to make it suit the R rating, the filmmakers sent it back the same as it was, with the exception of desaturating some of the blood, namely in the climactic bloodbath. Even more surprising, the MPAA actually congratulated the filmmakers on the "changes" they were making, earning the film the R rating its makers desired without compromising on anything but the brightness of some blood.

  • 5
    2,513 VOTES

    A Legendary 'Fight Club' Line Is The Result Of Attempted Censorship

    There are a lot of memorable moments in David Fincher's Fight Club. But the sex scene between Marla and Tyler is one of the most memorable, not only for its strange visual approach, but perhaps primarily because of Marla's infamous post-coital deadpan: "I haven't been f*cked like that since grade school." While that line is eyebrow-raising in and of itself, it was put in the film to appease producer Laura Ziskin, who didn’t approve of the original line: "I want to have your abortion."

    Fincher agreed to change the line with the condition: that whatever he changed it to would be would be the final version, without Ziskin's oversight. She agreed, claiming nothing could be worse than that - only to find that Fincher's substitution was indeed worse. Though she begged him to change it back, Fincher, as per their arrangement, left it in the film.

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    1,416 VOTES

    Black And White Is More Than A Stylistic Choice In 'Kill Bill'

    Quentin Tarantino is known for his style as much as anything else. The Kill Bill franchise alone cribs aesthetic beats from martial arts films and anime, so it was no surprise to see there was also some black and white footage thrown into the mix, likely as an homage to older martial arts films. While much of Taratino's work is homage, there was actually more to the inclusion of the black and white scenes - namely, that they were an easy way to include some of the film's most violent scenes without censorship.

    Tarantino changed certain scenes to black and white after they were filmed so that the gratuitous blood wasn't quite so visible, while keeping the scenes themselves otherwise intact. It worked, and the MPAA allowed Kill Bill to be released with an R rating.