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Understanding Ontario’s Film Classification System

You have probably seen ratings symbols appearing on movie posters and ads in Ontario newspapers, but do you know what they mean? Previously known as the Ontario Censor Board, the Ontario Film Authority was first established in 1920. While the board became rather notorious in the ‘70s and ‘80s for censoring or banning movies that were passed intact in other parts of Canada, the practice of cutting and rejecting movies mainly only happens now with explicit pornography containing violent or degrading sequences.

The OFA’s mission is to serve primarily as an information service. They accomplish this in two ways: classification and information pieces.

In Ontario, movies can receive the following classifications:

Ratings have two important purposes. They provide viewers with an advance idea of the film’s content, which allows them to make an informed choice about the movies they see. Classifications also restrict films with more mature content to viewers the board feels would be old enough to understand what is being shown and not be traumatized by it.

An increasing number of adults favour being allowed to choose what they watch. Rating movies instead of cutting or banning them is a preferable alternative that allows those of legal age to view what they wish in the form the filmmakers intended.

Another aid provided by the OFA is information pieces. These are content warnings included with a film’s advertising alongside the rating. Each classification has set parameters for what is permissible within that rating regarding adult language, sexual content, violence, nudity, and horror. If the film’s content strays beyond those parameters, but not enough to warrant a stricter classification, the warnings provide advance notice of this to patrons. Some of the warnings employed are Coarse Language, Graphic Violence, Sexual Content, Nudity, Frightening Scenes, Gory Scenes, Disturbing Content, Language May Offend, Tobacco Use, Substance Abuse, and Not Suitable for Young Children.

Does Turner Classic Movies Have a Future?

Established in the 1990s, Turner Classic Movies has been a godsend for fans of old movies. During a period when fewer and fewer stations are showing movies that date before the 1990s, TCM continues to embrace the format. On almost any given day, you can tune in to see a mystery from the 1930s, a western from the 1940s, a horror movie from the 1950s, or a romantic comedy from the 1960s.

Veteran TCM host Robert Osborne, who died earlier this year. By Peabody Awards (Turner Classic Movies) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

As you might expect, TCM’s regular audience skews older. Like cable news networks, this is a problem for the station as they will eventually lose them, not to other channels, but to death. Old movies are a wonderful way to learn about the past and appreciate the stars and cinematic techniques that led to the long-term development and popularity of the movies as an art form.

However, the key to ensuring continued viewership is through young people and that is increasingly a challenge for the network. When I was a child, there was not nearly as much to choose from entertainment-wise. I actually developed a fondness for old movies out of desperation; there was nothing else on, so I watched them. Nowadays, with hundreds of channels and so many other diversions available, getting young people interested in sitting down to a slow, possibly clunky, and (horrors!) maybe even black and white movie is a very tough sell. As the audience for such programming declines, the station is faced with some tough choices, including the possibility of adding commercials as a way of increasing revenue.

That would be a real shame as TCM feels increasingly like the last stop for old movie lovers. It’s a cultural source that needs to continue, not just for old fogies like me but for the knowledge and entertainment of generations to come.