Hays Code was a set of moral guidelines for most movies released from 1930-1968 in the United States. It was lining out what was acceptable and not acceptable to show to an audience in motion pictures. In the 1920’s, Hollywood was involved in a number of scandals, including rapes and murders, and the purpose of this code was to rebuild the image of the film industry. Although, many directors and writers during this time managed to find ways around this censorship.
Here were some of the key rules, as listed by http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/UsefulNotes/TheHaysCode?from=Main.HaysCode
- “Correct standards of life” (for the times) must be presented, unless the plot called for something else. This had the strange repercussion that some directors avoided taking on films that centered on poverty, since it might conflict with the code.
- The law must be respected and upheld.
- Portrayals of nudity, and overt portrayals and references to sexual behavior were banned (even between consenting adults). Even the aftermath of sexual activity — pregnancy and the resulting childbirth — wasn’t allowed.
- Religion was never to be depicted in a mocking manner. In some cases, this had the effect of preventing religion being depicted at all, for fear of being deemed mocking after the fact.
- Drug use (including alcohol consumption) was banned unless the plot called for it. Under the first code, drug use was only allowed if the story was a cautionary tale against drug abuse or if the druggie gets what he or she deserved for doing it in the first place. Illegal narcotics were strictly prohibited, no matter what the circumstances.
- All detailed depiction of crime must be removed, such as lockpicking, safe-cracking, or mixing of chemicals to make explosives.
- Revenge in modern times was not permitted as it might glorify violence (specifically murder). Historical settings might allow it — particularly where there was no law to punish the offender. This means that Westerns were the only movies allowed to have revenge as a theme or premise.
- Topics considered “perverse” were not to be discussed, including homosexuality, miscegenation (interracial relationships), bestiality, and venereal diseases.
- The sanctity of marriage was to be upheld.
- Blasphemy, including using the name of God as an expletive or exclamation, was not allowed. Using the word “God” was allowed, but only if used in a reverent tone or meaning.
- Profanity of any kind was prohibited.
- The United States flag was to be treated with utmost respect.
Now the MPAA (Motion picture association of America) rating system is in place instead of Hays Code.
Other sources: http://www.artsreformation.com/a001/hays-code.html