The Dallas Motion Picture Classification Board (DMPCB) was a “quasi-judicial body with legal jurisdiction over the commercial motion picture industry in the City of Dallas.” The Dallas City Council established the DMPCB to protect people under the age of 16 from viewing material that could corrupt their morals, cause emotional disturbances, or lead to imitative violence. The function of DMPCB was to fulfill the provisions of the city’s ordinance including viewing and determining film classifications — legal definitions identified within the ordinance — prior to exhibiting them in theaters located in Dallas and corresponding with motion picture distributors, theaters within Dallas, and city authorities. MP Ordinance violations carried civil penalties up to $200 (later $500) a day against establishments. The Department of Consumer Affairs investigations were charged with giving notices of violations (NOV) as well as any appeals to the NOV.
The board was composed of twenty-six unpaid members (four being versed in the Spanish language) who were appointed by Dallas City Council. Per Ordinance 14862, the board was originally under the City’s Secretary Office and later transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services (formerly named the Department of Consumer Affairs).
The DMPCB determined whether a film fit MP Ordinance definitions and classified the film accordingly— “suitable for young persons,” “not suitable for young persons,” or “suitable except” with the accompanying symbol(s), “L,” “S,” “V,” “D,” “N,” and/or “P” for language, sex, violence, drugs, nudity, and perversion, respectively. Before 1977, the theater/exhibitor was required to request a city classification, prior to a film exhibition in the City of Dallas. In 1977, responsibility was moved from the exhibitor to the distributor to request a DMPCB classification. Any request for “not suitable” did not require a film viewing. Requests for “suitable” with or without exception and/or a film with an MPAA rating of G, GP, PG, or PG-13, had scheduled screenings at the cost of the theater, then distributor after 1977. If a distributor disagreed with the DMPCB classification, it had the option of giving a “Notice of Non-acceptance,” requesting the DMPCB to reconsider the classification. If a distributor did not accept the DMPCB’s final classification, the distributor could choose to start legal proceedings to settle the disagreement.
Motion picture review and classification in Dallas began in 1911 when the Dallas City council appointed individuals to review films. In 1932, the Dallas City Council formalized the practice by creating the Dallas Motion Picture Reviewing Board (DMPRB). Nationally, the U.S. Supreme Court “Miracle Decision,” Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson (1952), landmark decision stated motion pictures were protected expression by the First Amendment. Only thirteen years later, the U.S. Supreme Court Case, Freedman v. Maryland, 380 U.S. 51 (1965), shifted the burden of proof that a film was “dangerously obscene” from the distributor/exhibitor to the government. To be within federal law, in 1965, the City of Dallas renamed and recodified the board with Motion Picture Ordinance 11284, creating the Dallas Motion Picture Classification Board. The DMPCB’s duties were enumerated in Dallas City Code Chapter 46, Article II, §46-13 through §46-20.
Between 1966 and 1993, Ordinances 12169, 12373, 13271, 13525, 13548, 14552, 14730, 14862, 14930, 14952, 15145, 15365, 15511, 16133, 16295, 17028, 17517, 19312, and 19825 all resulted from the ever-changing status of the DMPRB. The various amended ordinances, and many DMPCB film classifications, went to litigation, including to the U.S. Supreme Court. Litigation occurred due to either the city code itself being challenged as unconstitutional or the DMPCB film classifications not being accepted by film distributors. Distributors would file suit against the City of Dallas to settle the disagreement. In 1975, the City Attorney recommended amending the original ordinance to bring it into compliance with court decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court Case, Interstate Circuit, Inc. v. Dallas, 390 US 676 (April 22, 1968). Dallas City Council passed Ordinance 14930 (July 7, 1975), which also required that all films exhibited in Dallas carry the DMPCB classification in all print advertising and in the box office. By the late 1980s, Americans grew more reliant on the nationally-known Classification and Ratings administration system, which was created in 1968 (and is still administered) by the Motion Picture Association of America.
The DMPCB was the last municipal board of its kind in the nation, running solo to uphold contemporary community standards since 1976 when the Memphis ordinance in Tennessee was ruled unconstitutional and the state board of Maryland ceased operations in 1981. Many motion picture distributors did not accept the DMPCB film classifications, taking the City of Dallas to court, and local, state, and national industry political pressures were pushing on the City of Dallas. As a result, on August 11, 1993, Dallas City Council Ordinance 21768 repealed and dissolved the DMPCB.
The collection covers multiple decades and offers a high-level view of the DMPCB. This collection documents government business, including issues and activities pertaining to the DMPCB; board minutes, correspondence, reports, litigation files, research files, ordinance amendments, and motion picture classification ratings.