More films to receive warnings for stereotyped views as BBFC deems 'Flash Gordon's' Ming the Merciless 'dubious if not outright offensive'

Streaming platforms Disney+ and HBO Max added similar warnings to old films with 'outdated views'

Ming the Merciless, an East Asian character in 1980s film 'Flash Gordon', was played by Swedish actor Max von Sydow. YouTube
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More old films could be flagged for including racist and stereotyped content, after UK film censors added a new warning to a re-released version of Flash Gordon.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) deemed Ming the Merciless, a character in the 1980s classic, “dubious if not outright offensive”.

The character was of East Asian appearance and played by Swedish actor Max von Sydow.

The BBFC added a warning about “discriminatory stereotypes” at the start of the film, and gave it a more strict rating of 12A for its reissue. It was given an A rating on its original release, which would be roughly the equivalent of a British PG rating today.

"Ming the Merciless is coded as an East Asian character due to his hair and make-up, but he's played by a Swedish actor in the film, which I don't think is something that would happen if this were a modern production, and is something that we're also aware that viewers may find dubious if not outright offensive,” said BBFC senior policy officer Matt Tindall.

"The character of Ming, of course, comes from the Flash Gordon comic strips from the 1930s and the serials, and let's just say attitudes towards the acceptability of discriminatory racial stereotypes have moved on considerably since then, and rightly so of course.

"While the presentation of Ming in Flash Gordon, the 1980s film, isn't what we would consider a category-defining issue, we're sensitive to the potential it has to cause offence. So we've highlighted it [to ensure] audiences are aware it's there, and can make an informed decision about whether to watch the film themselves or to show it to their children."

The BBFC will next year examine how to handle stereotypes in other old films.

It comes as an increasing number of film production companies and classifiers continue to add warnings to films deemed to contain outdated or stereotyped content.

Earlier this year, a warning was added at the start of a number of films on streaming service Disney+, including the original animated versions of Aladdin and Peter Pan.

US streaming service HBO Max added a warning to the 1939 film Gone With The Wind saying it "denies the horrors of slavery".