Hamilton uses three instances of “fuck” in its original Broadway incantation, but the movie adaptation heading to Disney Plus next month will drop two uses of the word to appease the ratings board — and Disney.
Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda announced on Monday that in order to bring the movie to Disney Plus, he and his team had to come up with ways of eliminating the offending word. They ended up muting the “fuck” in “I get the fuck back up again” during “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down),” and covered another use of the word with a record scratch in the lyric “Southern motherfucking Democratic Republicans” in “Washington On Your Side.”
In February, Manuel also told The New York Times’ Kyle Buchanan that if they had to “mute a word here or there to reach the largest audience possible, I’m okay with that, because your kids already have the original language memorized,” adding that he didn’t “think we’re depriving anyone of anything if we mute an f-bomb here or there to make our rating.”
“I literally gave two fucks so the kids could see it,” Manuel tweeted.
Manuel noted that the ratings board within the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has strict rules about how many times the use of a certain word, like “fuck,” can be used. Technically more than one “fuck,” and a movie should receive an R rating. Disney Plus has strict rules about what can appear on its namesake streaming service, barring anything above a PG-13.
The rule that Miranda is referring to is very real. A revised version of the classification and rating rules from the MPAA state that in order for a movie to maintain a PG-13 rating, there can’t be more than one instance of the word “fuck.” This is because “fuck” is seen as a “harsher sexually-derived” word. A PG-13 movie can have multiple instances of the word “bitch” for example, but because “fuck” is seen as a sexually charged word, it can’t be used more than once.
“More than one such expletive requires an R rating … even [if only] one of those words [is] used in a sexual context,” the certifications reads.
Here’s where it gets a little complicated — the rule is more of a guideline. The rating board may allow more than one use of the word “fuck.” It’s all dependent on context. Here’s how the rating board describes its judging process:
The Rating Board nevertheless may rate such a motion picture PG-13 if, based on a special vote by a two-thirds majority, the Raters feel that most American parents would believe that a PG-13 rating is appropriate because of the context or manner in which the words are used or because the use of those words in the motion picture is inconspicuous.
Essentially, if the fucks in question are being used in relation to a sexual act or in a sexual way, only one can appear. If the fucks, however, are being used to express anger, frustration, or for comedic purposes that don’t cross over into sexual territory, more than one “fuck” is allowed. To better understand the situation, let’s examine Ridley Scott’s The Martian.
Matt Damon’s Mark Watney prominently uses “fuck” twice in The Martian — once after performing surgery on himself, and once again later in the film when he utters out a simple, “Fuck Mars.” The word appears a few more times in the film, once via a text exchange and another time when Damon clearly mouths the word although it isn’t audible. Despite using the word prominently twice, The Martian received a PG-13 rating. Neither of the instances are directly related to a sexual act, so the MPAA allowed it to skirt an R rating. For theatrical releases, the rating is crucial, as an R rating limits how many people can see the movie.
Neither of the two instances Miranda highlights above are sexual in nature. In all likelihood, Miranda and Disney could have argued to keep them. There’s enough precedent including and beyond The Martian. Many PG-13 films have more than one “fuck.” The underlying factor here is the studio in question — Disney.
At its core, Disney is a children’s entertainment company. Former head of Disney Plus, Kevin Mayer, acknowledged that people “won’t find anything above a PG-13” on Disney Plus, although more adult offerings were coming to the platform. Part of staying true to that brand is making movies and TV shows as friendly to younger audiences as possible. Getting rid of two fucks likely a) appeased the MPAA rating board regardless and b) made Disney feel more comfortable about putting Hamilton on Disney Plus instead of its general, more adult-oriented streaming service, Hulu.
This isn’t the first time that Disney is censoring content for its streaming platform. Recently, Disney found itself at the center of conversation for using weird fur-looking CGI to cover a butt in Splash, a Tom Hanks movie from 1984. A Disney representative confirmed at the time that a “few scenes” from Splash were “slighted edited to remove nudity,” but they did not specify when the edits were made. Disney has also edited out curse words from other titles and made other small edits that watchdog fans on sites like Reddit have steadily tracked.
So, while Miranda is correct that the MPAA’s rating board has specific rules about how many times the word “fuck” can be used in a movie, this case does seem like it may have come from both Disney and the MPAA. The best part about this whole situation, however, is the one “fuck” that Miranda chose to leave in. The line goes “That was my wife you decided to / Fuuuu—,” which, of all the fucks Miranda chose to keep, is by far the most sexual.