Will H. Hays was a prominent figure in the history of American cinema. He served as the president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) from 1922 to 1945 and is known for creating the Hays Code, a set of guidelines that regulated the content of American films for over three decades.
Who Was Will H. Hays?
Will H. Hays was born on November 5, 1879, in Sullivan, Indiana. He was a successful attorney and politician before he was hired by Hollywood studios to clean up their image in the wake of scandals that rocked the industry in the early 1920s.
As president of the MPPDA, Hays worked hard to improve Hollywood’s reputation by promoting self-censorship and creating guidelines for film content. His efforts were successful, and he is credited with helping to establish Hollywood as a major cultural and economic force in America.
The Creation of the Hays Code
In 1930, after years of criticism from religious groups and censorship boards, Will H. Hays created the Production Code Administration (PCA) and issued a set of guidelines known as the Motion Picture Production Code or simply “the code.”
The code was meant to regulate film content by prohibiting depictions of nudity, suggestive dancing, drug use, blasphemy, excessive violence, and any other behavior deemed immoral or offensive.
The Impact on American Cinema
The enforcement of the code had a significant impact on American cinema. Many filmmakers found it difficult to work within its strict boundaries, leading to self-censorship or outright avoidance of controversial themes.
However, some filmmakers found ways to subvert or challenge the code’s restrictions through clever writing and innovative filmmaking techniques. These filmmakers often pushed boundaries in ways that helped advance American cinema aesthetically and thematically.
The End of the Hays Code
By the 1960s, the code had become increasingly outdated and irrelevant. The rise of independent filmmakers and changes in societal attitudes towards sex, violence, and other taboo subjects made it difficult for Hollywood studios to adhere to the code’s strict guidelines.
In 1968, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) replaced the Hays Code with a new rating system that allowed for greater artistic freedom in American cinema. The new system included ratings such as G, PG, R, and X that gave audiences a better understanding of a film’s content and allowed filmmakers greater flexibility in their storytelling.
Will H. Hays was an influential figure in the history of American cinema. His efforts to clean up Hollywood’s image helped establish it as a major cultural and economic force in America.
The creation of the Hays Code had a significant impact on American cinema for over three decades before it was replaced by a new rating system that gave filmmakers greater artistic freedom. Despite its limitations, the Hays Code remains an important part of American film history and continues to be studied by scholars today.