British film censor puts a warning on 1980s movie Flash Gordon

British film censor claims Flash Gordon villain Ming the Merciless is a ‘discriminatory stereotype’ and ‘offensive’ for being played by a white actor as it puts warning on 1980s movie

  • British Board of Film Classification has added a warning to Flash Gordon film
  • The board warns viewers may find Ming the Merciless character ‘offensive’  
  • Late Swedish actor Max von Sydow portrayed east Asian villain in 1980 movie

Viewers have been warned about an ‘outright offensive’ character in the iconic movie Flash Gordon. 

The British Board of Film Classification has added a warning about Ming the Merciless, advising the audience that the character played by the late Swedish actor Max von Sydow is a ‘discriminatory stereotype’. 

The 1980 movie was reclassified as a 12A earlier this year, and the BBFC said Ming is ‘coded as an east Asian character’ and would now be considered, ‘dubious if not outright offensive’. 

Earlier this year, Gone With The Wind was temporarily removed from HBO Max over concerns about its depiction of slavery. 


Ming the Merciless, left, played by the late Swedish actor Max von Sydow, right, has been labelled a ‘discriminatory stereotype’

The British Board of Film Classification has added a warning about Ming the Merciless

On its website, the BBFC warns: ‘An alien character is coded as ‘Asian’ due to his hair and make-up, although he is portrayed by a Caucasian actor. 

‘The character derives from the film’s dated source material, but some viewers may find the depiction offensive.’ 

In a podcast released a few days ago, BBFC senior policy officer Matt Tindall said the film was originally classified A, or advisory – the equivalent of a PG. 

He added: ‘Things we have moved on since 1980 and we had to look at Flash Gordon with fresh eyes. In doing so, we came to the conclusion that for modern audiences its much more appropriately rated 12A than PG. 

‘Flash’s arch-nemesis, Ming the Merciless, is coded as an east Asian character due to his hair and make-up, but he’s played by the Swedish actor Max von Sydow, which I don’t think is something that would happen if this were a modern production and is something we’re also aware that viewers may find dubious, if not outright offensive.

‘The character of Ming himself of course comes from the Flash Gordon comic strips of the 1930s and let’s just say that attitudes towards the acceptability of discriminatory racial stereotypes have moved on considerably since then, and rightly so, of course.

‘While the presentation of Ming in Flash Gordon, the 1980 film, isn’t what we would consider a category-defining issue, we’re sensitive to the potential it has to cause offence. So we’ve highlighted it…audiences are aware it’s there, and can make an informed decision about whether to watch the film themselves or to show it to their children.

‘This is something we have to bear in mind when we see older films coming in for reclassification; films that might contain discriminatory depictions or stereotypes that are not acceptable to modern audiences – including films where discrimination wasn’t the work’s intent – just a reflection of the period in which it was made.’

Mr Tindall added the BBFC was planning more research next year into older films, ‘that might contain discriminatory depictions or stereotypes that are not acceptable to modern audiences’.

An added video disclaimer was added to Gone With The Wind, stating the film ‘denies the horrors of slavery’

He said the film censor will be, ‘speaking to the public to check that they’re happy with the ways that we’re classifying such films and the way that we classify each use of discrimination more generally.’ 

This comes after an added video disclaimer was added to Gone With The Wind on HBO, stating the film ‘denies the horrors of slavery’.

It now opens with a four-minute introduction discussing the movie’s depiction of race in the Civil War era and ‘why this 1939 epic drama should be viewed in its original form, contextualized, and discussed’.

The film ‘presents the antebellum South as a world of grace and beauty without acknowledging the brutality of chattel slavery upon which this world was based’, TCM host and film scholar Jacqueline Stewart says in the introduction.

The film won eight Academy Awards, including best picture, and set a milestone when supporting actress Hattie McDaniel, who played a maid, became the first African-American actor to win an Oscar.

Earlier this year, Flash Gordon star Brian Blessed – who starred as the winged extraterrestrial Prince Vultan – claimed the movie was the Queen’s favourite film. 

Talking to Edith Bowman on Yahoo Movies, Blessed said: ‘The Queen, it’s her favourite film, she watches it with her grandchildren every Christmas.’

The 83-year-old then impersonated Her Majesty’s voice in the interview, saying: ‘You know, we watch Flash Gordon all the time, me and the grandchildren. And if you don’t mind, I’ve got the grandchildren here, would you mind saying ‘Gordon’s alive’?’ 

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