The Hays Code, or Production Code, was how motion pictures' content was regulated from the 1930s to the 1960s.
A 1915 Supreme Court ruling declared that motion pictures were exempt from First Amendment privileges of freedom of speech. The 1920s were marked by scandals that involved Hollywood stars, and a fear that films would corrupt public morals led to a very real threat of bans by some communities and the Catholic Church. Dozens of organizations called for government control of the film industry. Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA) leader and former Postmaster General Will Hays created the Code to appease church concerns. Compliance was voluntary, but non-compliance could be fined, and non-compliant films could not be shown in the theater networks of the MPPDA. The Code took hold in 1934.
This code mandated that no film could lower its viewers' moral standards, which meant that criminals and wrongdoers could not be sympathetic characters. Nudity and sex scenes were prohibited. Its standards were a good example of the bigotry that comes hand-in-hand with these campaigns: women were restricted to submissive roles, and mixed-race relationships were prohibited. By the mid-1950s, Hollywood films faced competition from television and from foreign films, which did allow nudity, and the public was no longer alarmed about films' content. The Code began to loosen, and Russ Meyer's The Immoral Mr. Teas challenged nudity restrictions in court and won. This obsoleted the Code, and the modern ratings system replaced it in 1968.
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