Here’s Everything There Is To Know About The “Poor Things” Censorship Discourse After The Movie Was Forced To Edit A Scene Depicting “Sexual Activity In The Presence Of Children”

It has been revealed that a controversial sex scene was edited ahead of Poor Things' theatrical release, and the news has sparked a serious conversation about censorship.

Minor spoiler ahead.

It was recently reported that Emma Stone’s latest movie, Poor Things, had been re-edited for British theaters after the British Board of Film Classification found issue with one of the many sex scenes.

The film is about a woman who is brought back to life by an unorthodox scientist and embarks on “a journey of self-discovery and sexual enlightenment.”

It had its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival in September and screened at many other festivals around the world before its theatrical release in the United States last month.

The cast and crew on them red carpet

It is due for release in the United Kingdom this weekend, and ahead of this, IndieWire revealed that the film will be “looking slightly different” on that side of the Atlantic.

According to the publication, the BBFC gave Poor Things an 18 certificate rating — the highest possible rating in the UK — but only after a sex scene involving children was re-edited.

In the scene, the father of two young boys hires Emma’s character, Bella Baxter, as a sex worker to teach the children how to have sex. He has sex with Bella in front of the boys — and this is where the issue lies.

In a statement, the BBFC explained that movies released in the UK are not allowed to depict “sexual activity in the presence of children” in accordance with the Protection of Children Act 1978.

Despite the legal necessity behind this decision, it sparked fierce backlash from movie buffs online, with many taking to X, formerly known as Twitter, to share their outrage at the “censorship.”

A closeup of Emma in Poor Things

Quote-tweeting IndieWire’s news report, one person wrote, “The idea of censoring a movie in 2024 is insulting to both the art & the people who choose to spend their time & money to support it. Someone is making the decision on what you, an adult, should be allowed to see. We need to stop this becoming a trend.”

The idea of censoring a movie in 2024 is insulting to both the art & the people who choose to spend their time & money to support it.

Someone is making the decision on what you, an adult, should be allowed to see. We need to stop this becoming a trend.

— Chris 🇮🇪 (@ThisIsCreation) January 7, 2024
Twitter: @ThisIsCreation / Via Twitter: @ThisIsCreation

Somebody else wrote, “So not only did I have to WAIT an extra month of release… but now we get a cut version. I HATE IT HERE.”

Twitter: @yakotrick / Via Twitter: @yakotrick

“Was looking forward to the UK release but if it’s gonna be edited and censored then I might as well look forward to it coming to streaming in the US,” another said.

Twitter: @mikeytibble / Via Twitter: @mikeytibble

While somebody else said, “It's to comply with the child protection act in the UK. Which is totally understandable. Nobody's out to steal your liberty…”

Twitter: @photo_Abe / Via Twitter: @photo_Abe

But amid all of the outrage, it appears that a key part of the BBFC’s statement has been missed, with the board stating that the scene in question had already been re-edited prior to Poor Things being submitted for formal classification.

In fact, it appears that the theatrical release of the movie is the same across the world, with Britain’s specific laws not actually being a factor.

The statement reads, “We originally saw this film for advice. We informed the distributor we would be likely to classify the film 18 on condition that changes be made to one short sequence depicting sexual activity in the presence of children.”

“When the distributor submitted the film for formal classification, the scene had been re-edited, and we were able to classify the film 18,” it concluded.

This is seemingly confirmed by the theatrical run time for the movie being exactly the same in the United States and the United Kingdom, with it looking like the original sex scene only ever featured in Poor Things’ film festival run.

In response to the censorship tweet, one person wrote, “This was an earlier cut that never got released. The UK cut and the US cut are the same, it’s why they are the same length.”

Twitter: @fantastic_talk / Via Twitter: @fantastic_talk

And over on Reddit, one viewer clarified, “It’s my understanding that in the earlier cut, the two shots were edited to be in frame at the same time (ie. the children and the sex both on screen) and in the recut the film cuts between the two shots so that the children and the sex are never on screen at the same time, but the scene itself remained in the film.”

A rep for the BBFC confirmed to BuzzFeed that a “compulsory cut” would have been required if the original scene was in the movie when it was submitted for classification. However, when the distributor formally submitted Poor Things, the edit had already been made — which means that it was not a direct result of UK laws.

Others disputed the censorship discourse entirely, arguing that there will always be circumstances where this is required. One person asked, “Do you seriously think there's no situation when censorship might be necessary?”

Twitter: @wanksley / Via Twitter: @wanksley

Another user added, “Well... don't have sex scenes involving children, in any way, in your movie…”

Twitter: @travelinjeebus / Via Twitter: @travelinjeebus

Poor Things’ director, Yorgos Lanthimos, previously talked about all of the sex scenes being a “very intrinsic” part of the movie, which is based on Alasdair Gray’s novel. Speaking at the Venice Film Festival, he said, “It was very important for me to not make a film which was going to be prude, because that would be completely betraying the main character. We had to be confident and again, like the character, have no shame.”

And despite the controversy, Poor Things has been a huge success. On Sunday, it won the award for Best Motion Picture in the musical or comedy category at the Golden Globes, with Emma Stone also taking home the Best Actress accolade in that category for her performance as Bella.

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