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‘Mary Poppins’ age rating increased in U.K. due to ‘discriminatory language’

The 1964 Disney classic twice uses a word that is a racially insensitive term for the Khoekhoe, an indigenous group in South Africa, the British Board of Film Classification said.
Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews in "Mary Poppins".
Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews in "Mary Poppins."Donaldson Collection / Getty Images
/ Source: Variety

The age rating for the 1964 “Mary Poppins” has been increased in the U.K. due to “discriminatory language.”

On Friday, the British Board of Film Classification upped the Disney movie’s cinema rating from U, meaning it contained “no material likely to offend or harm,” to PG for “discriminatory language.”

In a statement to Variety, a BBFC spokesperson said that the film “includes two uses of the discriminatory term ‘hottentots.’"

"While ‘Mary Poppins’ has a historical context, the use of discriminatory language is not condemned, and ultimately exceeds our guidelines for acceptable language at U," the spokesperson said. "We therefore classified the film PG for discriminatory language.”

The word is a racially insensitive term for the Khoekhoe, an indigenous group in South Africa. The BBFC further explained that the word is used in the film by Admiral Boom (Reginald Owen), including when referring to the chimney sweeps whose faces are covered in soot.

“We understand from our racism and discrimination research, and recent classification guidelines research, that a key concern for people, parents in particular, is the potential to expose children to discriminatory language or behavior which they may find distressing or repeat without realizing the potential offense,” the BBFC spokesperson continued.

“Some language or behaviors are therefore not permitted at U or PG in any circumstance, or are wholly dependent on context,” they said.

The original “Mary Poppins” starred Julie Andrews as the magical nanny and Dick Van Dyke as her sidekick Bert. The cast also included David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns, Hermione Baddeley, Karen Dotrice, Matthew Garber, Elsa Lanchester, Arthur Treacher and Ed Wynn.

The film was an immediate phenomenon upon its release, and has since been adapted into a hit Broadway musical and was given a sequel, “Mary Poppins Returns,” in 2018. Emily Blunt starred as Poppins alongside Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Colin Firth and Meryl Streep. Van Dyke made an appearance in the sequel as the uncle of Firth’s character.