Brad Pitt's new movie, 12 Years a Slave, is about to be released, but would he let his kids watch it? The film has an R-restricted rating, meaning that no person under 17 can watch the film without being accompanied by an adult.
In a promotional interview with Today, Brad was asked this very question by Ann Curry and replied, "Maybe my eldest I would, right now." He was of course referring to his 12-year-old son Maddox. He added: "I'd rather for the others to get a little bit older and understand the dynamics of the world a little more."
Brad has five other children with his partner Angelina Jolie: Pax, 9, Zahara, 8, Shiloh, 7, and Vivienne and Knox, 5.
The film is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, who is abducted and sold into slavery, after already living as a free man in upstate New York. Pitt was a producer on the film, and took a role as a Canadian who is working on the plantation where Northup ends up. For Pitt, making 12 Years was the very definition of what movies are for. "It's one of those few films that cuts to the base of our humanity," he said.
But the question remains, is it right that he'd let his son watch a film that was deemed suitable only for those aged 17 and above?
Last week, my son asked if he could watch the movie Jaws. He'd heard me talking about it, and I guess being a bit of a film junkie myself, I'm encouraging his own film schooling. Jaws is a classic, of that there is no doubt. Now, back in the early '80s, I'd watched it at the cinema, at age 8. I remember the movie visit distinctly - my Uncle took his neighbour's kids and me. While I loved the movie, I also remember continually fiddling with my hair and dropping my hair grips on the floor, having to bend to pick them up at all the suitably scary moments. But watching Jaws now, the movie has dated. The images look faded, the plastic shark somewhat unreal. Has my son not seen more startling imagery in movies such as Brave, when an enormous bear scared him in the darkened movie theatre, or when he happened to catch the news about a mass shooting in America?
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Reluctantly, I agreed to let him watch Jaws, in his home, with myself and his Dad there, which felt a bit less intense than watching it in a dark movie theatre, the sounds booming all around. We agreed that if it got scary, we would stop. After all, it was a PG-rated film when it was released… (In 2012, 37 years since its original release, the BBFC upped Jaws to a 12A certificate for its then upcoming theatrical re-release). So maybe we shouldn't have let him watch it?
We fast-forwarded the kid on the lilo being gobbled up, as it felt a bit too close to the bone (no pun intended). At the end, my son announced that he loved the film, enjoyed the story, and said he wasn't scared - only a little surprised when the dead man floated out of the boat. (I'd forgotten to fast forward through that bit…).
It sat a little uneasily with me, so I was relieved when he didn't have nightmares and didn't mention anything upsetting him at all. But when I mentioned our Saturday afternoon movie viewing to colleagues at work, one joked, "What's next, you gonna show him The Shining?"
Obviously, we'll not be showing him any 18 ratings (as it is in the UK)! But where do you draw the line? My Father let me watch 18 films when I was 11. He didn't really deal with censorship in any way, thinking that if everything is on the table, it can be discussed, understood, made to be (ironically) less scary.
Yet censorship has its place. Images that are disturbing should never be shown to kids - but what makes something 'disturbing?' What one person would deem acceptable, would another not refute? At age 12, I snuck into the cinema to see Gremlins, then a 15 certificate, and I wasn't scared at all. At age 15, I also lied about my age to see The Accused, and it traumatized me - then again, I think it traumatized every woman, no matter what age.
Is censorship in itself not just a guideline? There are far scarier things online that our children are susceptible to, that as teenagers, we never encountered. As a parent, it is my duty to censor all kinds of things on a daily basis - my language, the news on tv, rows between us as a couple that shouldn't be had in front of our children, etc…
Part of me agrees with Brad Pitt - that you have to judge each kid on their own maturity, and what you feel they can comprehend and process without negative repercussions. Maybe his son will be able to watch the film and take in the adult themes, and be able to discuss them and grow from the experience. Maybe another 12-year-old wouldn't be mature enough to do so.
I say, whatever works for you, works for you. You know your own boundaries and what feels right for your kids. But it may be a while before we watch Jaws without my finger hovering over the fast-forward button….
Brad's full interview aired on NBC News TODAY and Anne Curry last night.
-By Suzanne Cowie
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