Bad news for Indian audiences who love Woody Allen and sad, wealthy white ladies: the director’s latest film, Blue Jasmine, which was slated to open in India over the weekend, saw its distribution in the country canceled. Allen, who contractually is able to reject any changes to the film, objected to the anti-smoking disclaimers that, according to Indian law, must be included in any scene in which a character smokes a cigarette.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Before every movie — both Indian and foreign — an anti-tobacco ad by the Ministry of Health is screened depicting the hazards of smoking, while during screenings, an anti-tobacco text message is inserted on scenes showing characters smoking.” This seems a little overkill, since each film is also preceded by an anti-smoking PSA that gives off the same information.
I can’t help but take up Allen’s side in this case. While anti-smoking ads are important, there does seem to be an absolute mania involved in their overwhelming presence. Let’s look at the context of Blue Jasmine, even: is this a film that young people will go to see and thus be turned on to smoking every time one of the characters lights up? That’s doubtful. And considering the unhinged nature of the characters, an anti-smoking message on the screen seems redundant at best. Each character is already functioning as one.
This sparks, obviously, a complicated conversation about the role governing bodies have over artistic expression. I don’t see anything wrong with an anti-smoking PSA showing before a film, but to insert one into a movie is preposterous. Should every car chase, every murder scene, or every other cinematic moment displaying poor behavior (I’m looking at you, teen sex comedies) also be littered with disclaimers? I suppose there’s less of an anti-murder lobby (or, less dramatically, an anti-alcohol lobby) to compete against the anti-tobacco folks, but if we’re honestly thinking that a message urging against doing the bad things seen in movies will deter anyone from doing them if they already have the want to do so, we’re sadly naive.
Art is (at least when it’s successful) a look at real life’s complications rather than an endorsement of the complicated behaviors of the people it depicts. To place disclaimers within a film not only distracts the audience from the director’s vision; it also waters it down. Art should not have to pay lip service to outside agendas — it’s up to the artist to decide what to put on display. Not only was Woody Allen completely right to pull Blue Jasmine from Indian distribution, but one hopes that his actions will have a larger effect — not only on other directors who may decide to do the same thing, but also on the Ministry of Health in India, which should have more respect for the art it has attempted to tarnish with its own agenda.