BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Rape Prevention Group and Television New Zealand Ltd - 1994-008

Members
  • I W Gallaway (Chair)
  • R A Barraclough
  • L M Dawson
  • J R Morris
Dated
Complainant
  • Rape Prevention Group
Number
1994-008
Programme
Gone with the Wind
Channel/Station
TV One


Summary

Gone with the Wind starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable was screened by Television One

at 8.40pm on 9 October.

On behalf of the Rape Prevention Group in Christchurch, Ms Rhonda Findlay complained

to Television New Zealand Ltd about the sexually violent attitudes which the film

encouraged. In particular, she referred to the scene in which the husband (Rhett Butler)

carries his wife (Scarlett) upstairs in order (the audience presumes) to force sex upon her,

and the following scene which shows Scarlett awake happy and singing the next morning.

The Rape Prevention Group said that sequence of events breached the broadcasting

standards by glamorising violent and now illegal behaviour.

Pointing out that the famous sequence was made more that 50 years ago, TVNZ argued

that the film should be seen as a classic historical narrative. While the behaviour displayed

was not now acceptable, TVNZ said that context had to be taken into account and declined

to uphold the complaint. Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, on the Group's behalf Ms

Findlay referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of

the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given below, the Authority declined to uphold the complaint.


Decision

The members of the Authority have viewed the part of the programme complained about

and have read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). As is its practice, the

Authority has determined the complaint without a formal hearing.

Concern that television was partly responsible for sexually violent attitudes towards

women was the reason for a complaint to TVNZ about the broadcast of a scene in the film

Gone With the Wind. On behalf of the Christchurch Rape Prevention Group, Ms Rhonda

Findlay complained about the scene when Scarlett O'Hara awoke in the morning, happy

and singing, after apparently being raped by her husband, Rhett Butler, the night before.

Arguing that Scarlett's reaction glamorised unacceptably violent behaviour, Ms Findlay

maintained that it breached standard V11 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

It reads:

V11  Any realistic portrayal of anti-social behaviour, including violent and

serious crime and the abuse of liquor and drugs, must not be shown in a

way that glamorises the activities.


In declining to uphold the complaint, TVNZ did not argue that a strict interpretation of

the standard might have arrived at the contrary conclusion. Rather, it noted that the

scene was a famous one in one of the greatest movies ever made. Moreover, the film had

been made more than 50 years ago when relationships between men and women, both

within and outside of marriage, were "less developed" than they were currently.

Moreover, great works of art often contained judgments which were unlikely, now, to

gain universal approval. However:

Great works of art are recognised for what they are, and for the insight they

provide into the time to which they refer.


In conclusion, TVNZ considered that the film should be seen as a "classical historical

narrative" and any act of censorship would amount to "cultural vandalism".

The Authority understood the motivation for the complaint. As was recognised by the

recent change in the law which made the act illegal, marital rape has become

acknowledged as an unacceptable display of violence. As the complainant pointed out,

Scarlett's pleasurable reaction could be seen to contribute to the erroneous view that

women enjoy being raped.

However, the Authority did not accept that this acknowledgment meant that the

complaint should be upheld. First, the standard applies to a "realistic" portrayal of violent

behaviour and the Authority considered the scene complained about could not be so

described. Scarlett O'Hara, it believed, was at times presented as a caricature in a fantasy

and her performance, for example her lack of resistance to Rhett's actions, suggested that

she had not acted in a natural way.

Secondly, even if the portrayal was deemed realistic, the Authority noted the lengthy

introduction to the section of the standards relating to violence in the Codes of

Broadcasting Practice Television which contains the following statement:

Context is all important and includes such things as programme type, likely

audience, time of day and less tangible factors relating to prevailing community

attitudes and values.


While the Authority was not prepared to agree with TVNZ that the longevity of the work

in question in itself might be a sufficient reason not to apply the standards strictly, it was

prepared to examine the scene complained about in the context. In context, including the

tempestuous on-going relationship between the two central characters as well as Scarlett's

erratic behaviour, the Authority accepted that the scenes complained about – a very short

segment of a lengthy movie – had a place in the story's development.

The continuing undoubted influence of the film was considered and, specifically, whether

the actions of the two leading characters could be seen as models for behaviour today.

While accepting that it was not possible to eliminate entirely any current influence, the

Authority decided that more modern social influences would have more effect than these

scenes from a classic film made in the 1930s about the American Civil War in the 1860s.

 

For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the

complaint.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Iain Gallaway
Chairperson
21 February 1994

Appendix


Rape Prevention Group's Complaint to Television New Zealand Limited

In a letter dated 1 November 1993, Ms Rhonda Findlay of the Christchurch Rape

Prevention Group complained to Television New Zealand Ltd about the film Gone with the

Wind screened on Television One at 8.40pm on Saturday 9 October.

Expressing concern about the sexually violent attitudes towards women encouraged by

some television programmes, Ms Findlay referred to a scene in the film in which the

husband grabs his wife, takes her upstairs and, as confirmed by the later dialogue, rapes

her. Next morning, however, the wife awakes happy and it is implied that she secretly

wanted to be raped.

The morning scene, Ms Findlay wrote, breached the provision in the Violence Code of

Broadcasting Behaviour which prohibits glamorising violent and serious crime. It did not

show that such behaviour was unacceptable or the consequences which could occur. She

concluded:

Marital rape has been illegal in New Zealand since 1986, and the seriousness of

such matter should not be trivialised, romanticised, or portrayed as a positive

action but rather the degrading, outrageous crime that it is.

TVNZ's Response to the Formal Complaint

TVNZ advised the Rape Prevention Group of its Complaints Committee's decision in a letter

dated 10 November 1993 and reported that the complaint had been considered under the

nominated standard.

Referring to the famous scene of one of America's great movies, TVNZ pointed out that the

film had been made more than 50 years ago when attitudes towards relationships were

different from those which now prevailed. It pointed out that the attitudes displayed in

many great works of art were recognised as providing an insight into the time which they

portrayed.

TVNZ described Gone with the Wind as great film-making which should be seen as a

classic historical narrative. While the behaviour displayed was now unacceptable, taking

the context of the film into account, TVNZ declined to uphold the complaint.

Rape Prevention Group's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards

Authority

Dissatisfied with TVNZ's response, in a letter dated 6 December 1993 Ms Findlay on the

Group's behalf referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under

s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Pointing out the complaint focussed primarily on Scarlett's attitude in the morning - not

so much on Rhett's behaviour the night before - Ms Findlay argued that as it glamorised

anti-social behaviour, it breached the nominated standard in the Violence Code. She

acknowledged that the scene was famous but that did not excuse a breach of the standard,

adding:

Indeed one would question why this scene is so famous. It serves to highlight how

many people view the whole scene as romantic and are being deceived about the

devastating facts of reality.

She argued that the fact that the film was made 50 years ago or that attitudes had

changed were irrelevant as marital rape had always been considered by women to be a

major violation.

Sexual violence has never been viewed by victims as glamorous as "Gone with the

Wind" would have us believe.

Acknowledging that the film was an Oscar-winning one, Ms Findlay maintained that it

was not in the same category as Shakespeare's works. She returned to her concern about

the relationship style portrayed in the film and stressed that scenes which depicted sexual

violence as normal encouraged an attitude which was conducive to sexual violence.

In conclusion she wrote:

As "Gone with Wind" clearly breaches code VII we would ask the Broadcasting

Standards Authority to uphold the complaint. For many years now, women and

other concerned people have complained to groups such as ours about this

particular morning scene. We feel that if television can openly breach codes

without clear restraint there is little value in having codes, and no channel

through which the public can express its views and make positive changes for the

good of society.

TVNZ's Response to the Authority

As is its practice, the Authority sought the broadcaster's response to the complaint. Its

letter is dated 9 December 1993 and TVNZ, in its reply dated 16 December, urged the

Authority, first, to consider the scene in context as Scarlett O'Hara's complex character was

unfolded, and secondly, to take the film's quality into account.

Rape Prevention Group's Final Comment to the Authority

When asked to comment on TVNZ's response, in a letter dated 6 January 1994 Ms Findlay

repeated the Group's concern that what might appear to be harmless was not harmless in

a society where the rate of sexual offending was increasing.