Birmingham Motion Picture Council
The Birmingham Motion Picture Council was a film appreciation and public interest group made up of women interested in promoting the development of motion pictures as a positive force for society. The Council made presentations about upcoming films to literary and civic clubs and also worked with schools and libraries to distribute study materials related to certain screenings of films with educational value. It was a successor to the Birmingham Better Film Committee of the 1920s.
Until 1937 the Council also served as a censorship board which screened motion pictures and made recommendations to a Chief Amusement Inspector who was given authority by the city to prohibit films which violated community standards. The group also inspected cinema posters and reviewed Vaudeville performances. The Council adopted a code of prohibited content as a guide for reviewers which included "prolonged, passionate love scenes; drinking made attractive to young people; immorality in plays treated in a light way as low comedy; scenes showing burglary, arson, lynching, scoffing the law and officers of the law."
According to the Chief Inspector Myrtle Snell's report for 1930, a total of 811 first-run pictures were screened in Birmingham of which 673 received the Council's endorsement. A weekly guide to first-run pictures winning the council's endorsement was published in the Birmingham News as a service to the public. Matinee screenings of 57 children's films were sponsored by the Council, of which 6 were presented free of charge. 23 films were banned during the year. One theater operator was arrested for refusing to pull a picture, and that theater remained closed for 6 days.
The Council also communicated with other film groups and with film producers to disseminate and explain their concerns about the industry. Other achievements of the Council included agreements with theater operators to refrain from selling tickets for "horror" pictures to children and with "suburban" theaters to set aside special seating areas for unaccompanied girls to be chaperoned by council members. In 1936 the Council sent members to observe the activities of the Mickey Mouse Club, but nothing objectionable was reported.
Mae West controversy
Birmingham City Commission president James M. Jones and commissioner Lewey Robinson voted in January 1937 to abolish the chief inspector position then held by Harriett Adams. The action came shortly after the Mae West film Go West Young Man was rejected.
Sole responsibility for approving films was given to the Birmingham Police Chief, then Luther Hollums. He planned to assume the duty alone without a screening board, considering himself suited because he was an "average" movie fan, neither too conservative nor too radical. As he told the Birmingham Post: "I have seen several Mae West pictures and have failed to discover anything wrong with them. 'Evil-minded' persons can always interpret things the wrong way."
Council president Mrs Claude Hagan and her supporters planned to use the power of the ballot to elect Commissioners pledged to restore the duties of the Council during the 1937 Birmingham City Commission election. Jones was re-elected as Commission President, but fellow Commissioners Robinson and W. O. Downs were replaced by James W. Morgan and Eugene "Bull" Connor.
- "Report of City Amusement Inspector for 1930" (1930) - accessed May 27, 2008 at Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- "Birmingham Motion Picture Council (1936) notes to members. - accessed May 27, 2008 at Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- "Movie Council Declares War on Commission" (January 27, 1937) Birmingham Post - accessed May 27, 2008 at Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- "Movie Council Will 'Carry On'" (February 9, 1937) Birmingham Post - accessed May 27, 2008 at Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections