Disney recently announced a ban on smoking in its films.
The ban will prevent Disney and all of its affiliated production companies – Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Pixar – from showing anyone smoking on screen in films with a PG-13 rating or lower. Disney cites a Surgeon General’s report for the reason behind the ban, which states that children may consider smoking after they see others do so in films. There’s one exception to the rule: historical figures. For example, if Disney decides to make a movie about Abraham Lincoln, who was a smoker, they can show him smoking in the film on the grounds of preserving historical accuracy.
“In terms of any new characters that are created for any of those films, under any of those labels, we will absolutely prohibit smoking in any of those films.”
I’m conflicted about this development. On one hand, preventing kids from starting to smoke is an admirable goal. I think how strong the direct influence of film actions on childrens’ lives is perhaps questionable, but I can see where Disney is going with this ban. You don’t want to hear years later that some kids started smoking because their favorite character made it look cool.
On the other hand, as a writer I feel this ban cuts into the creative freedom of the scriptwriters. If you picture your character smoking, you should be able to write that.
But I think the bigger issue this ban brings up is the question of censorship and what we will and won’t allow on our screens. For instance, maybe we can all agree that underage smoking is bad, and maybe this even constitutes a ban. But then why aren’t we banning other on-screen vices – alcohol, violence, gambling, other drugs? Those things are bad for kids too, aren’t they?
I’m not saying we should be taking everything “bad” out of movies. That would be boring, not to mention impractical. My point is I don’t fully understand why Disney has taken a stance on this one issue, and I don’t see how they can justify banning the portrayal of smoking in their films based solely on its potential for encouraging bad habits in kids. Couldn’t kids just as easily pick up prejudices, violent tendencies, or otherwise worrisome traits from movie villains, for example?
Personally, I’d rather see Disney focus on portraying more diverse racial, ethnic, and sexual identities on screen than focus on cutting down on the number of cigars getting smoked.