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Why Did Hays Write the Production Codes

Why Did Hays Write the Production Codes?

During the 1930s and prior to that time, one might have thought that anything was allowed in Hollywood – it would certainly seem as though there were virtually no rules and the film industry was under a TON of scrutiny. To limit what was presented on the screen, and in an effort to combat calls from many different groups including religious groups, conservative publishers, and others to enforce censorship for films and movies, Hollywood decided to create their own list of production directives that would place restrictions on all films that were produced, distributed, or exhibited by members of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America– the Hays Code. But why did Hays write the production codes?

What Was the Production Codes?

The Production Codes were created for the purpose of helping to rehabilitate Hollywood’s image following a series of scandals which largely left the film industry to be viewed as a deplorable unit that was inappropriate in many ways.

The Production Codes offered governing on:

  • The production of motion pictures, prohibiting nudity, overuse of liquor, the ridicule of religion, lustful kissing, scenes of passion, and discussions of sexual perversity. 
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  • Limiting productions to only represent law in a natural or human manner, never ridiculing or showing sympathy for the violation of law.
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  • Representing that any motion picture that would be produced, distributed, or viewed by the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America would represent correct standards of life, with subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, while making sure that purity is present.

Many refer to the period of Hollywood’s censorship using the Production Codes as a time when the industry was “More innocent,” and representative of a wholesome and moral crew in which correct thinking was the basis for all filmmaking.

Why Did Hays Write the Production Codes?

The Production Codes were written in response to plans for the American government to censor films and impact censorship laws on cinema. Prior to the Production Codes, a lack of censorship created a space that was less politically correct, where actors and actresses played all kinds of roles.

Pre-code films have a strong feminist slant, often showcase topics that were sensitive, and created provocative scenes and exploitations of sexuality and power. 

Matters Taken into Hollywood’s Hands

Threats by the U.S. Supreme Court, beginning in 1915 when they ruled that films did not qualify for the First Amendment protection would be just the beginning of Congress’ attempt at national censorship.

In an effort to stop the government from censoring films and banning film production for many, Hollywood took it upon themselves to have the Hays Code written. 

Adopted by Major Studios

This set of production directives would be voluntarily adopted by major studios, proving to Congress that Hollywood was fully capable of cleaning up their act and playing “nice” on screen.

While Will H. Hays did not actually write the Production Codes, he was the office head that began enforcement of the codes which were written a few years prior by Father Daniel A. Lord in 1930.  

To better understand the effect that the Hays Code had on films, check out this compilation of examples:

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