When Marielle Heller’s film Diary of a Teenage Girl was released last month, a huge amount of the coverage focused not on the film, but its classification. The film explores the sexual awakening of 15-year-old Minnie (played by Bel Powley), including her affair with her mother’s boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). Understandably, the director’s accusation that the film was awarded its 18 certificate by an all-male panel, despite its focus on a younger teen girl, provoked anger from filmmakers and cultural critics alike.
However, David Cooke, the director of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has told the New Statesman that the accusation is unfounded. The film was classified according to the BBFC’s guidelines (created through regular public consultation), thanks mainly to its eight sex scenes, use of cocaine, LSD and marijuana, and what Cooke calls the “glamorisation” of drug use in the film. He added that the age gap between Minnie and Monroe, and the fact that Minnie is underage, would also have affected the decision.
After the film was awarded an 18 certificate, the writer and producer submitted it for a reconsideration, along with letters explaining why they disputed the 18 rating. Cooke said that the BBFC rarely gives out information on its classification processes, but in this case he’s willing to clarify that the reconsideration was carried out by a mixed group of the BBFC’s senior management, including Catherine Anderson, the head of communications.
He also said that the film very clearly fits into the 18 classification:
It wasn’t a borderline case. As part of the reclassification process I saw the film for a second time, which can sometimes change my opinion, but in this case I felt exactly the same about the film.”
Cooke emphasised that the film’s classification shouldn’t be seen as a judgement on its depiction of female empowerment:
As part of our remit, we have to be fair and consistent, and fixing a rating for this film involved looking at our guidelines and lots of precedents. The last thing we’d do is claim to offer a definitive interpretation of a film.”
Sony Classics, the film’s distributor, has yet to respond to requests for comment. We will update the piece if and when they do.