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In The Wake Of 'The Interview,' A Brief Look At America's Film Censorship Through The Years

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 11:  James Franco and Seth Rogen arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of 'The Interview' held at The
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 11: James Franco and Seth Rogen arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of 'The Interview' held at The Theatre at Ace Hotel Downtown LA on December 11, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Araya Diaz/WireImage)

As we're bombarded with developments surrounding Sony Pictures' decision to cancel the release of "The Interview" in the wake of terrorism threats, we're reminded of America's long history with film censorship -- one that, thankfully, doesn't often rear its head anymore. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's comedy stars Rogen and James Franco as journalists ordered to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un after landing a rare interview with him. It's an (almost) unheard-of case of executives electing to pull a movie; historically, it took a court order to strong-arm studios into cutting their losses over a controversial project. This is, after all, an entertainment industry that operated under the Motion Picture Production Code (aka the Hays Code), which regulated what could be seen onscreen from 1930 to 1968. That set of regulations brought about an onslaught of imbroglios over what did and didn't violate standards. We've compiled a list of several movies that act as precursors to the censorship questions being raised with the "Interview" controversy. It only skims the surface of film restrictions in American history, but it'll give you an idea of some of the battles filmmakers and distributors have faced over the years.

  • "Birth of a Nation" (1915)
    "Birth of a Nation" was <a href="http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/birth-of-a-nation-opens" target="_blank">America'
    Hulton Archive via Getty Images
    "Birth of a Nation" was America's first proper feature film. Based on the T.F. Dixon Jr. novel "The Clansman" (and originally bearing its title), D.W. Griffith's three-hour silent movie chronicles two families in war-torn 1860s America -- one in the North and another in the South -- and the racial strife that led to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. The script's "malicious portrayal" of African Americans prompted riots at screenings when the movie opened in February 1915, with several cities and states banning "Birth of a Nation" altogether. The movie is frequently credited for sparking the KKK's resurgence later that year, as it was used as a recruiting tool for new members. Heralded for promoting advanced filmmaking techniques like close-ups and cutaway shots, "Birth of a Nation" is nonetheless cited as one of the greatest films ever made. "It is like writing history with Lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true," President Woodrow Wilson reportedly said after "Birth" became the first film to screen at the White House.
  • "Birth Control" (1917)
    Birth-control activist Margaret Sanger made a film about contraception advocacy. Its ban was upheld under a 1915 Supreme Cour
    Chicago History Museum via Getty Images
    Birth-control activist Margaret Sanger made a film about contraception advocacy. Its ban was upheld under a 1915 Supreme Court case that determined movies are not protected as free speech. "Birth Control" reportedly had just one screening, and was never seen again. (No versions exist to this day.)
  • "Tarzan and His Mate" (1931)
    MGM <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=Jid5xNh89wgC&pg=PA189&lpg=PA189&dq=tarzan+and+his+mate+production+code&source=
    Silver Screen Collection via Getty Images
    MGM sparred with the Production Code office when Maureen O'Sullivan (or, rather, a body double) appeared nude during a bathing sequence. The studio lost, and the scenes were removed for the original theatrical release.
  • "Ecstasy" (1933)
    Perhaps the first movie to depict intercourse, the Czech drama "Ecstasy" was <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=qrCCB
    Elektafilm
    Perhaps the first movie to depict intercourse, the Czech drama "Ecstasy" was confiscated by the U.S. Customs Department for its violation of the Hays Code's nudity mandates. U.S. distributors appealed, but it wasn't until 1940 that the movie was released in select art-house cinemas.
  • "The Outlaw" (1943)
    Howard Hughes had already cut or re-edited a reported 37 scenes from "The Outlaw" because the Hays office <a href="http://www
    Movie Poster Image Art via Getty Images
    Howard Hughes had already cut or re-edited a reported 37 scenes from "The Outlaw" because the Hays office determined the Western overemphasized Jane Russell's breasts. Its advertisements also showcased the actress' bosom, and the movie didn't last more than a week in cinemas before it was withdrawn from release. Hughes re-released the film in its original form three years later to more outcries from the Production Code overlords. Nonetheless, "The Outlaw" became a smash at theaters willing to show it.
  • "The Miracle" (1948)
    Half of Roberto Rossellini's anthology film "L'Amore," "The Miracle" is partly responsible for the decline in American film c
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Half of Roberto Rossellini's anthology film "L'Amore," "The Miracle" is partly responsible for the decline in American film censorship. Distributor Joseph Burstyn brought the case to the Supreme Court after it was stamped with a "sacrilegious" tag for depicting a character named Saint Joseph (Federico Fellini) impregnating a peasant who thinks she's the Virgin Mary (Anna Magnani, pictured with Rossellini). When Burstyn's appeal made it to the United States' highest court in 1952, it was deemed that, under the First Amendment, a movie could not be censored for religious reasons.
  • "Some Like It Hot" (1959)
    By the late '50s and early '60s, the potency of the Hays Code had dwindled. Movies were able to get away with a lot more, as
    Archive Photos via Getty Images
    By the late '50s and early '60s, the potency of the Hays Code had dwindled. Movies were able to get away with a lot more, as long as they didn't broach the topic of homosexuality. Billy Wilder's famous "Some Like It Hot" saw Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis deflecting male admirers while dressed in drag. It also featured an innuendo-laden Marilyn Monroe proving the code was old news. The Roman Catholic Church's Legion of Decency condemned the movie, but not many minded: "Some Like It Hot" was a smash at the box office, and it went on to earn six Oscar nominations. A year later, the Motion Picture Association of America considered initiating a ratings system instead of a governing code. It was introduced in 1968, and we still use a version of it today.
  • "I Am Curious (Yellow)" (1967)
    Depicting frank sexuality, the style of Vilgot Sjöman's "I Am Curious (Yellow)" blurred the lines between fiction and documen
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Depicting frank sexuality, the style of Vilgot Sjöman's "I Am Curious (Yellow)" blurred the lines between fiction and documentary. It was banned in Massachusetts as pornography. Following three court cases, including one heard by the Supreme Court, it was determined the Swedish film was, in fact, not obscene, making changes in movie standards that led to the release of films like "Deep Throat."
  • "The Tin Drum" (1979)
    Despite winning the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or prize and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, "The Tin Drum" was
    Everett Collection
    Despite winning the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or prize and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, "The Tin Drum" was banned in Oklahoma City after a district judge ruled it obscene in 1997 (18 years after its release) due to the state's laws concerning underage sexuality. Police seized copies from local video stores and obtained rental records to located those who'd checked out the others. High-profile hearings overturned the ban.
  • "The Warriors" (1979)
    A rare example of a movie's recall not stemming from a court order, Paramount pulled Walter Hill's violent portrait of gang c
    Movie Poster Image Art via Getty Images
    A rare example of a movie's recall not stemming from a court order, Paramount pulled Walter Hill's violent portrait of gang culture after mob scenes broke out at movie theaters. The studio brought in metal detectors and security guards, but it wasn't enough: Crowds broke through exit doors to get into screenings of "The Warriors," and three deaths were reported as a result of the brawls. One gang member reportedly shouted a quote from the movie ("I want you!") before stabbing a Massachusetts teenager.
  • "The Last Temptation of Christ" (1988)
    Martin Scorsese angered biblical purists with his adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' contentious "The Last Temptation of Christ
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Martin Scorsese angered biblical purists with his adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' contentious "The Last Temptation of Christ." After widespread denunciation from Christian groups, three major theater chains declined to play the film. Evangelist Bill Bright offered to pay Universal Pictures in exchange for all prints of the film, but the studio refused. Protests broke out, and several Southern cities successfully banned the movie. Blockbuster Video refused to carry the title when it was released on VHS in 1989, despite an Oscar nomination for Scorsese.
  • "The Profit" (2001)
    Citing the ongoing wrongful-death suit involving former member Lisa McPherson, the Church of Scientology <a href="http://www.
    Human Rights Cinema Society
    Citing the ongoing wrongful-death suit involving former member Lisa McPherson, the Church of Scientology obtained an injunction preventing the release of "The Profit" -- seen widely as a parody of the religious group and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard -- after it was screened at a Florida movie theater and the Cannes Film Festival. The movie chronicles a con man who starts a cultish religion in order to make money.
  • "The Interview" (2014)
    Read more <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/17/sony-cancels-the-interview_n_6343926.html?utm_hp_ref=entertainmen
    Read more here and here.
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