The British Board of Film Classification has added a warning to the classic Flash Gordon.

The 1980s classic now bears a warning about Ming the Merciless. The board said the role is a ‘discriminatory stereotype’ and ‘offensive.’

Ming The Merciless was played by a white actor, Max von Sydow, who was Swedish.

Released in 1980, the film has been reclassified as a 12A.  The board said Ming would now be considered, ‘dubious if not outright offensive’.

It’s not the first film to cause upset. Gone With The Wind was temporarily removed from HBO Max over the depiction of slavery. The film now features a four-minute-long discussion beforehand that addresses the realities of slavery.

The BBFC warns: “An alien character is coded as ‘Asian’ due to his hair and make-up, although he is portrayed by a Caucasian actor. The character derives from the film’s dated source material, but some viewers may find the depiction offensive.”

BFC senior policy officer Matt Tindall said the film was originally classified A, or advisory which is the equivalent of a PG.

Potential to cause offence

Tindall says on a podcast: “Things we have moved on since 1980 and we had to look at Flash Gordon with fresh eyes. In doing so, we came to the conclusion that for modern audiences its much more appropriately rated 12A than PG.”

“Flash’s arch-nemesis, Ming the Merciless, is coded as an east Asian character due to his hair and make-up. He’s played by the Swedish actor Max von Sydow, which I don’t think is something that would happen if this were a modern production. It’s something we’re also aware that viewers may find dubious, if not outright offensive”

“The character of Ming himself comes from the Flash Gordon comic strips of the 1930s. Let’s just say that attitudes towards the acceptability of discriminatory racial stereotypes have moved on considerably since then, and rightly so.”

“The presentation of Ming in Flash Gordon, the 1980 film, isn’t what we would consider a category-defining issue. We’re sensitive to the potential it has to cause offence. So we’ve highlighted it…audiences are aware it’s there, and can make an informed decision about whether to watch the film themselves or to show it to their children.”

“This is something we have to bear in mind when we see older films coming in for reclassification. Films that might contain discriminatory depictions or stereotypes that are not acceptable to modern audiences – including films where discrimination wasn’t the work’s intent – just a reflection of the period in which it was made.”

More can be done

Mr Tindall adds the BBFC is planning more research next year into older films. This includes films “that might contain discriminatory depictions or stereotypes that are not acceptable to modern audiences”

He says they will be “speaking to the public to check that they’re happy with the ways that we’re classifying such films and the way that we classify each use of discrimination more generally.'”

Do you think it’s right to add warnings to these older films?

Image via Alamy