Censorship & Regulation

Efforts to regulate or censor movies, including legal issues more generally.

Portland's Battle to get Rid of "Unfair" Censorship

On July 16 1916 a censorship battle began in Portland with the hope to secure “fair and unprejudiced” censorship of the motion pictures that were being presented in the state at the time. This campaign was opened by the Oregon Motion Picture Mens Association. Petitions where the main way the association worked to get the larger theaters in the area to back the campaign, and once this occurred the petitions were sent to the city commissioners of Portland. The main goal was to grant “theatre men” the right to appeal to the courts if they content was being censored in a specific local area.

The Stubborn Liability of Exhibitors

Since the emergence of cinema, local and federal governing bodies have had a say in what actually makes it to the silver screen. The roots of cinema established the art form as a family-friendly way to keep people out of trouble. Any sort of film promoting or even alluding to behaviors which don’t align with these values got the chop. However, while promoting itself as in the best interests of the people, the box office turnouts for heavily censored films often showed otherwise. 

Boxing Matches at the Heilig

The sport of boxing has had a tumultuous time throughout its long history in the United States. Fighting through times of extensive  regulation from both State and Federal legislatures, the sport has always managed to survive as a popular spectacle. In the early 1900s, boxing was mostly relegated to fights between local sports clubs with minor crowds and promotion. These matches were purely exhibition as officially judged bouts or bouts with payouts were federally illegal, acting as a ban on prizefighting in general.

Gem Theater, St Helens

The St. Helens Mist was one of the primary newspaper companies in St. Helens in the early 20th century.  After scouring articles that were available through the UO library website, I was able to find many instances of documented male managers and owners of theaters in the city of St.

Portland Majestic Theater Owner Censorship Public Statement

Edwin F. James was a highly regarded businessman who moved from Seattle, Washington to Portland, Oregon to open the Majestic Theater on June 11, 1911. The theater sat 1,100 people and was the first palace in Portland to show silent feature films and was later the first to add live organ music to silent films viewings.

Film Ban Expresses Racial Censorship in 1945

The esteemed Paramount Theater (also known as the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall) located on Broadway in Portland, Oregon, was banned from showing the controversial film “Imitation of Life”. The film, starring Louise Beavers and Fredi Washington told a story of a daughter in the film who supports the negro population by creating friendships and bonds in the negro community. The film expressed the cause of controversy in the white community.

Film Censorship: America's Disagreement

The early 1900's era of filmmaking was under the firm grasp of the National Board of Censorship, an organization formed to prevent the showings of indecent or suggestive content in movies. This became quite a hot topic among viewers at the time. Some Americans preferred a restriction on what they considered to be inappropriate while others favored a more risqué style. This debate did not go unnoticed in Portland, Oregon and in fact seemed to emphasize the same national issues. Listed below are four separate segments from two Portland Newspapers between years of 1910 and 1922.

Portland's Stringent Censorship Board

Upon doing more research on film censorship occurring in Portland in the early 1900s, I learned that there was a Portland board of motion pictures censor. Viewers of the Portland board of motion pictures censor had the authority to order scenes and subtitles from publicly released films to be removed. According to an article from The Oregon Daily Journal in March 1921, the film Passion was ordered to remove three scenes and one subtitle from its film, which is focused on Madame DuBarry, a French revolutionary.

Portland Exhibitors Against Censorship

With the moving picture industry expanding at a rapid pace, film censorship was quickly growing as a potential threat for those involved in the industry. According to an article from The Sunday Oregonian in 1915, there was an opposition to film censorship by men of The Portland Press Club. The president of the club made the argument "if exhibitors in Portland show flagrant pictures, the public itself will be the censor". He continued to explain that if a picture is disliked by the public, it will fail and no longer be shown.