Michael Kenwood (Local Democracy Reporter)
Belfast council committee votes against under 15's seeing The Batman in city cinemas
Belfast City Council has refused a request for under 15’s to see The Batman in Belfast cinemas.
The council’s Licensing Committee voted narrowly not to create a new film rating and overturn the British Board of Film Classification’s 15 rating for the film after a bid from the head of the Moviehouse Cinema at Cityside Retail and Leisure Park at York Street.
Michael McAdam, managing director of the Movie House chain in Northern Ireland, made a request to the council for a new 15A classification on the film that would allow parents to bring children under 15 years to the cinema. The UK currently has no such classification, but the Republic of Ireland does.
At Tuesday’s committee meeting (February 16), the classification remained the same in Belfast after a narrow vote, with seven supporting the Movie House boss’s request, and eight against it.
Sinn Fein proposed allowing the new 15A classification, while a split in the DUP, with two supporting the change and two against it, ultimately meant the proposal fell. The UUP, the PUP, Alliance and the Greens voted against it.
The decision has to be ratified at the full council on March 1, two days before the film opens for general release in the United Kingdom.
BBFC Representative Edward Lamberti told the committee:
“As moviegoers are aware, the majority of superhero films receive a 12A, and Batman films over the years have received 12A classification certificates as well.
“This film is different. We haven’t given it a 15 lightly – we know that younger teens aren’t going to be able to see this in the cinema. There’s a good reason for this – it’s a stronger, tougher, bleaker movie than is typically the case with a superhero film.
“You will remember the film Joker from a couple of years ago was a 15 as well, that was our most complained about film decision in 2019. People who complained thought it actually should have got an 18. There was also a minority who thought it should be banned.
“There was also a Batman film in 2008 called the Dark Knight, that we gave a 12A to. That is the most complained about decision we have had in the last 15 years, by far. Some thought we underclassified it, that it should have been a 15.”
He added: “All our decisions are based on what the public says it expects from our research and outreach. The levels of threat and violence in this particular Batman film exceeds what we understand the UK public to find acceptable at 12A.”
UUP Councillor Carole Howard said:
“I fail to understand why anyone would go against the advice that has clearly been researched. We have not personally, and I have not personally, seen this movie, so I wouldn’t be happy to have this classification lowered when I haven’t seen the content.”
She added: “I empathise with the cinemas and the entertainment industry, they have been badly affected – my heart goes out to them, and I understand they have to get families back in.
“But as a parent myself, I cannot understand why a parent would want to take their child to a movie where they are potentially going to expose them to what Mr Lamberti calls a bleaker movie. Why would you want a child to see drug content and violence amongst other things.
“We work so hard as a council to keep our children in Belfast safe, and child protection has got to be paramount here. How many children might be traumatised when they come out of this movie?”
Michael McAdam told the committee:
“We are not asking the age range to be lowered. It will be 15A, all the warnings will be in place. I take on board, very much so, all the warnings that the BBFC have given.
“But I bring it to your attention, what happens in seven weeks time, when the very same film, with the very same cut is available on a streaming service in the house? It has been said by a speaker that it is for the parent’s to decide. Why can’t it be for the parents to decide at the cinema?”
He added: “Let’s have parents make decisions for their children. It is not fair that cinemas are penalised showing these films when streaming services are allowed to do so.”