Despite an appeal, the British Board of Film Classification have given the Edinburgh Award-winning, Kirsten Wiig-starring The Diary of a Teenage Girl an 18 certificate in the UK (even stricter than the film's R rating in the US). Written, directed and produced by women for young women (a rarity), the film was viewed and judged in the UK by a panel comprised solely of men. That's right, thanks to the views of a handful of humans with no actual experience of being an adolescent female, you technically have to wait until you've actually made it though the trials and tribulations of your teenage years before you're allowed to watch this much-needed related material. And thus being in your mid-teens sucks even more than it did before.
On attending a screening of the film, we fell hard and fast in love with Bel Powley as Minnie Goetze, the 15-year-old aspiring cartoonist we dream of befriending as she struts around 70s San Francisco in her clog wedges, navigating the city and her pubescent world from behind heavy bangs. While full of adoration, we were also pretty gutted that the film hadn't been there during our own teenage years. Had it been released ten years earlier, we would have related to and learned from Minnie's exploration of self and sexuality as we discovered our own. It is truly a shame that the majority of teenagers, the very subject of the film, are themselves not able to watch it in UK cinemas.
Wahida Begum from Vertigo, the film's distributor, believes that the panel must have missed both the point and message of the film, which "explores female sexuality with boldness and honesty in an un-exploitative manner. In an age where young women are still continually being sexualized and objectified, we feel The Diary of a Teenage Girl sends a very positive, reassuring message to young girls about female sexuality and body image." We agree. When a girl's coming of age is so often seen through the eyes of male-oriented films, we are taught that only boys want to have sex, that girls should hold back for fear of being seen as the overly caricatured 'sluts' they see on screen with a bad rep and headed for trouble. "Nobody tells a girl what it's like if you want to have sex. What if you're a teenage girl who wants to have sex? If you are, there's still this thing of feeling like a freak because everything you've ever read or seen tells you you shouldn't want it… and that's not true," points out director Marielle Heller. "Boys are given so many examples of films that say whatever they feel sexually is normal. And girls are relegated to this one little area - you have this virginity to protect and boys are going to try and take it away from you. As girls, we have been trained for a long time to relate to a male protagonist, to feel their stories and to be invested in them. And there's no reason why we can't invest in female characters the same way. Sexuality is something we're both experiencing and so if one side's perspective is reflected, the other side should be reflected too. Women's stories should be explored and celebrated too."
And while Minnie's sexuality happens to be awakened by an encounter with her mother's boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård), this is not a film about pedophilia, but the confident coming of age of a teenage girl and all that comes with the territory. It bravely asserts that yes, girls can like sex too, and that this supposed phenomenon is more than just acceptable. And the dreaded nakedness highlighted in the classification report? That boils down to a moment where Minnie stands naked in front of a mirror and stares at her changing body. If the male-focused likes of Superbad and Knocked Up are awarded ratings of 15 in the UK, as are modern coming of age classics like Cruel Intentions and Almost Famous, to give The Diary of a Teenage Girl an 18 seems ridiculous. Especially considering the fact that releases with almost identical themes, such as Fish Tank and The Reader, are also rated 15.
The honest sexual feelings of teenage girls are so rarely discussed on screen that this is perhaps why the men at the BBFC were confused or even afraid by the idea of making it available to young people. While you can legally have all the sex you want at 16, PLEASE don't expect to be able to watch this empowering representation of it on the big screen until you're at least two years deep. Surely the only explanation for such misinformed decision-making is that the board took the closing sentence of Minnie's diary too matter-of-factly: This is for all the girls when they have grown… literally, to age 18. Fuck that.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl is released in cinemas in the UK and US on 7th August.
Text Francesca Dunn