Commentary

Why an 'F-Word' in Hamilton Represents a Larger Problem With Hollywood Today

By Tim Winter | July 16, 2020 | 12:35pm EDT
Disney's "Hamilton" started streaming July 3. (Photo credit: YouTube/Flicks And The City Clips)
Disney's "Hamilton" started streaming July 3. (Photo credit: YouTube/Flicks And The City Clips)

When Disney+ announced the arrival of popular musical Hamilton to its platform, I and many other parents were ecstatic at the news. And its appearance caused a spike in Disney+ downloads when Hamilton was released, to the tune of 74 percent more downloads than the average of the previous four weekends.

But despite this popularity, many parents who would have been eager to share this musical with their children were turned off by one thing – the profanity that was allowed to remain.

The Disney+ version of the PG-13-rated Hamilton airs one “f-word,” a questionable decision given the family-friendly nature of the streaming service.

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda confirmed that two of three “f-words” were dropped from the streaming version in order to reach the broadest audience. The Motion Picture Association (MPA) allows one “f-word” to be used in PG-13-rated films.

But should one “f-word,” typically considered one of the harshest explicit words, even be allowed to air in PG-13-rated films? Most families consider any usage of that word greater than zero to be vile and totally off-limits.  In my entire life, I’ve never, ever heard a parent tell their child that they can use one “f-word” but not two or more.

Despite stated permission from the program’s creator to remove those two “f-words,” Disney has chosen to keep an f-bomb in the film. They also chose to keep over a dozen “s-words” and multiple instances of other harsh profanity that most families eschew. This decision is shameful for a corporation named after Walt Disney. 

And while the Parents Television Council has asked Disney+ to reconsider its decision to keep the profanity in the film, there’s an even bigger picture for families to understand, when it comes to the entertainment industry.

At the root of the problem is the MPA’s own rating system that allows for one “f-word” in a PG-13-rated film. The rating system problem doesn’t simply extend to explicit language. A 2017 Annenberg study found that gun violence in top-grossing PG-13-rated films exceeded gun violence in popular R-rated films. Radio host Michael Medved once noted that it would be more accurate to call “PG-13” films “R-13.” He was right.

Parents are told to rely on the rating systems to make informed decisions for their families, but when the rating system allows for even the harshest of profanities, or gun violence, for instance, the systems become untrustworthy.

A lesser-known problem is with Disney itself. For years, the Walt Disney namesake has kept swarms of lobbyists busy on Capitol Hill, working to prevent a legislative update to the Family Movie Act of 2005, which would allow parents to use content filtering technology to block explicit material that they find harmful or offensive. The 2005 measure applied primarily to DVDs, but most families today consume their home entertainment via streaming media platforms.

Content filtering technology may seem like a too-good-to-be-true solution for families, but the technology has already been created and it works elegantly. Sadly, Hollywood hates the idea of families being able to skip past explicit content. They hate it so much that Disney and other entertainment giants sued one of these filtering companies, VidAngel, into bankruptcy. 

You would think that the Hollywood studios – publicly-traded corporations that must deliver quarterly earnings reports to shareholders – would love any technology that expands their marketplace. Keep in mind that, with content filtering technology, families who would not otherwise purchase an R-rated film, or an edgy TV-14-rated program, would be able to do so. They can set their filters to simply skip past any offensive material. But the truth is that this isn’t about money. This isn’t about artistic creativity. It’s about preventing families from protecting their children from explicit content. 

In addition to an updated movie rating system, families would welcome the ability to filter graphic or explicit content when they stream movies and TV shows on Disney+, Netflix, Amazon, or other streaming services. An update to the Family Movie Act would extend this to streaming services.

So while bringing Hamilton to Disney+ was a great decision on so many levels, its execution wasn’t perfect. We would hope that families who have come to trust in the Disney brand would not hear any profanity in content on the service, or be able to filter that explicit content, and that the rating systems would accurately reflect what’s on the screen.

Now is the time to “not throw away” our shot at ensuring a safer entertainment environment for our families.

A former MGM and NBC executive, Tim Winter is the president of the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. Twitter: @ThePTC

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