Mary Poppins gets a PG rating

If you had to pick a film that you think would be totally wholesome fun for the whole family, Mary Poppins would seem like a good bet. So I was surprised to learn that it is now being given a PG rating (which stands for Parental Guidance) by British censors, a step up from its previous U (Universal) rating.


Because it has ‘discriminatory language’, specifically the word ‘hottentots’.

In it, a derogatory term originally used by white Europeans about nomadic peoples in southern Africa is used to refer to soot-faced chimney-sweeps.

In the film, Admiral Boom, a neighbour and Naval veteran who thinks he is still in charge of a ship, uses the word twice.

The British Board of Film Classification said it classified the film in 1964 and then again for a re-release in 2013.

“Most recently, the film was resubmitted to us in February 2024 for another theatrical re-release, and we reclassified it PG for discriminatory language,” a spokesperson said.

“Mary Poppins (1964) 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. We therefore classified the film PG for discriminatory language.”

The Oxford English Dictionary says the term, which referred to the Khoikhoi and San people, is “generally considered both archaic and offensive”.

Hottentots is a word that I had heard of before and had a vague idea that it referred to a group of people but could not have told you who they were, somewhat like the group ‘Huguenots’. I learned who the Huguenots were only after reading The Three Musketeers. I did not know that Hottentots was an offensive term.

Some people might think that this is yet another example of hypersensitivity but I think that it is because the people being thus described are not as well known. But just as we now avoid labels that are seen as slurs when used for groups of people whom we know, we should be just as willing to avoid using slurs for the less well-known.


  1. Silentbob says

    No doubt some people will have a meltdown about the “woke”.

    But it is of course a good thing people are becoming more conscious of prejudice.

    No one is banning Mary Poppins sonofroj. Relax. X-D

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    On occasion, I have dug into racist propaganda, and (especially way back when in the 20th century) found “Hottentot” used regularly to describe African societies as very low-tech and simplistic.

    I think the internal rhyme has a special appeal to the very low-brow and simplistic within American society.

  3. says

    Changing the rating of a very old movie because of some words we now consider offensive sounds a wee bit silly at first — but then again, that whole movie was pretty silly, including (but not limited to) the casual use of ignorant stereotypes and labels.

  4. robert79 says

    The only way I’ve heard of the Hottentots is through the Dutch tongue-twister “Hottentottententententoonstelling”, which by Dutch grammar rules is indeed one single word (my spellchecker disagrees with me!) and means a Hottentot tent display (as in a museum). So I guess that yes, I knew the Hottentots are a foreign culture (apparently with tents worth displaying).

    I’m not sure if in Dutch Hottentot is also used as a derogatory term, I’ve certainly never heard it used as such! It’s mostly used to illustrate grammar rules running amok.

  5. Jörg says

    robert79, in my youth in the 1970s, “Hottentotten” was a deragotory term at least beyond the eastern border of the NL.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    This is the usual culture war bullshit, to be honest. It doesn’t take into account the odd standards the UK applies now, and more importantly used to apply, when rating and censoring films.

    “U” used to be for kids films, but there was stuff in U films that, even when I was a kid, I would think “really? In a U?”. The best example that springs to mind is Spielberg’s “ET”, given a U in the UK. I sat in the cinema and heard Elliot’s older brother come into his bedroom and inquire “what’s this shit?”, and Elliot loudly call that same brother “penis breath”. Even as an eleven year old, I thought that seemed a bit strong for what was literally the lowest-possible rated movie. At the other end of the scale, “Enter the Dragon” was rated X (what would now be an 18 -- strictly adults only) but even then all scenes with nunchucks had to be cut -- because the chap in charge at the BBFC had a bee in his bonnet about them. They were cut from the 1990 Ninja Turtles movie too, for the same reason. More recently, UK censors have had a problem with headbutts, leading to an extremely obvious and crude cut in the subway fight between Neo and Smith near the end of “The Matrix”, and apparently a cut in “Attack of the Clones”, although I didn’t spot that one.

    I’d go so far as to say that I think most films made before 1990 that were certified U would probably nowadays be PG, simply because to get a U nowadays requires films to be so fully and absolutely inoffensive that it’s likely a definite effort to make them so, an effort it would never have occurred to anyone to make in 1975, say. Films get a PG for “mild peril”, for goodness sake.

    The modern BBFC is very, very good. They make it clear why they’ve certified a film a certain way, and they treat audiences with respect. They’re actually useful to make a decision about whether to show your kid a movie or not. This kind of criticism is, I think, ironically good publicity for them.

    Still can’t believe Spielberg had Elliot say “penis breath” though.

  7. seachange says

    In the books Mary Poppins is cruel and abusive. I really *didn’t* want to watch the movie~! For those I know who saw the movie first and decided they wanted more the book(s) were a surprise. Doing a PG seems like a wise thing.

  8. antaresrichard says

    “What makes the Hottentot so hot?
    What puts the “ape” in ape-ricot?
    Whatta they got that I ain’t got?!”

    ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939)

    A “PG” perhaps.


  9. sonofrojblake says

    @9: I doubt it.

    First of all, “vandal” wasn’t a name imposed on them by an invader/oppressor/enslaver/colonist, it is as far as I can make out their name for themselves.

    Second, the people concerned are all long gone and nobody still around has any particular reason to advocate for respecting them.

    Third, the ethnic group described by that word are literally white Europeans from Germany, so obviously nobody should or does give two flying shits about their feelings about anything.

  10. anat says

    Just remembered, the ancient geography textbook that my elementary school used (it was at least 15 years old when we used it) included Hottentots among the peoples of South Africa. The Hottentots were the pastoral groups whereas the Bushmen were the hunter-gatherers.

  11. MusicIsMyReligion says

    Gee someone better cancel the guitarist and composer John Scofield who wrote a tune called Hottentot. It’s a good one, but perhaps I shouldn’t play it any more in case someone takes offence. Then again it is an instrumental track with no singing so would it be sufficient if we just neglected to mention the title, or should we add a warning to all our gig adverts “some song titles may offend”?

    I’m all for respecting other people and not trying to offend anyone, but we are going to run out of words eventually at this rate.

  12. Jazzlet says

    MusicIsMyReligion @12
    You must have an unusually small and peculiar vocabulary if you do not know any words that would not be offensive to some living group. In fact I’m surprised you managed to write that comment.

    If you wish to know why people might prefer not to be objectified you might take a look at a Hottentot who was --

  13. MusicIsMyReligion says

    @Jazzlet thanks for the link.

    My granddaughter and I recently watched “The Wizard Of Oz” also uses this particular word, but I couldn’t say I noticed its classification. It’s one of her favourites -- such an enjoyable classic, why draw attention to something most people will not notice).

    Sorry for coming across a little hyperbolic in my previous post. Still I think you have made your point sufficiently in the second paragraph. There was no need to descend to ad hominisms. The first paragraph could be taken as directly offensive to me.

    Perhaps it’s all part of the evolution of the language.

  14. Jazzlet says

    MusicIsMyReligion @14
    I think you were more than hyperbolic, it read like you didn’t think it is worth treating all people with dignity just because you like a particular song, despite your disclaimer in your final paragraph. It really isn’t up to us as older people (assumption based on your mention of a grand-daughter) to police how other people want to be talked about. Maybe you now get just a little of how people feel when a characteristic they have and can not change is taken lightly, used as an insult, used to infer further characteristics like racial stupidity etc. etc..

  15. MusicIsMyReligion says

    Jazzlet @15 TBH this is all getting a bit confusing. To make it really simple, it’s so easy to offend someone (I get the feeling I have offended you) without any intention to do so. I’m 72 and find it too easy to get someone’s preferred pronouns wrong because my vocabulary etc was formed a long time ago. I have a very good friend who was he but is now she. When we are conversing I have sometimes gotten it wrong somehow or other. She does not care because we will be conversing about music and she is a virtuoso player whom I feel honoured to play with.

    Anyhow Jazzlet this is has been my first ‘discussion’ on a forum -- I have been a longtime viewer but never bother to post anything. So thank you for engaging with me. It has been fun.

  16. Mano Singham says


    I have been a college teacher all my life and have seen many changes over the years on all manner of changes in social mores and language that took me a while to get used to and because of that, I would occasionally make mistakes. But it never caused me any trouble.

    My feeling is that people can always tell when someone is trying to do the right thing but makes a genuine mistake because of unfamiliarity (as opposed to simply not being bothered or actively seeking to offend) and they are very forgiving. Your friend is behaving just in that way.

    There have been friends, colleagues, children of friends, or the friends of children whom I have known for a long time when they were known as one gender and then they transitioned. It took me a while to reflexively mentally check that I was using the correct current gender and at the beginning I sometimes slipped up. But they never upbraided me..

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