Monday, February 15, 2010


In a previous post I said that the Motion Picture Association of America has " set standards for their ratings, but rather a secret cabal of industry insiders and extremist social conservatives who dole out ratings apparently based on how funny it makes them feel." I also said that this was a rant for another day, and I think maybe that day is today! So let me explain.

I said that the MPAA has no set standards for their ratings because there is way too much wiggle room for subjectivity and outright bias in the way they define their categories. For example, the MPAA says that "...depictions of activities related to a mature theme may result in a restricted rating for the motion picture," but nowhere defines what these "activities" or "themes" may be—leaving the ratings board carte blanche to define them on a case by case basis in secret.

Which brings me to the next point, where I called the ratings board a secret cabal of industry insiders and extremist social conservatives. The secrecy of the board is one of my biggest pet peeves concerning their system. They claim that it is to avoid bowing to outside pressures—which should beg the question of who gets to be on the inside. This is one of the many subjects tackled in the 2006 film This Film Is Not Yet Rated, wherein filmmaker Kirby Dick hires a private investigator to find out who is on the both the ratings board and its board of appeals.

I used the term "industry insiders" because the appeals board (the only recourse a filmmaker has to argue against the rating their film has been given) was found to have The President of Trans-Lux Theaters, a film buyer for The Movie Experience, the chairman and CEO, Metropolitan Theatres, a film buyer for Regal Entertainment, the President of Archangelo Entertainment, the CEO of Fox Searchlight Pictures, the COO of Maya Cinemas, the vice president of sales for Sony Pictures, a vice president and film buyer for Landmark Theatres, the CA/NV chapter president of North American Theatre Owners, the VP of operations, west coast division for Loews Cineplex Theatres, the director of American Film Market—and two clergy, one Methodist minister and one Catholic priest. (What? No UCC? On second thought, that's not so surprising...) So while the MPAA says that "No one is forced to submit a film to the Board for rating..." it does so with the knowledge that the people who buy and distribute the movies to the theaters are sitting on its appeals board.

I used the phrase "extremist social conservatives" based on the differences in ratings and feedback between Hollywood and independent films, between homosexual and heterosexual sexual situations, between male and female sexual depictions, and between violence and sexual content. While this clearly has no baring on the difference between a G and a PG rating, it plays a huge role in the difference between an R and an NC-17. And while the MPAA says that "NC-17 does not mean 'obscene' or 'pornographic' in the common or legal meaning of those words, and should not be construed as a negative judgment in any sense," the truth is that their appeals board—sorry, I mean distributors, you can why I got confused there. The truth is that movies with an NC-17 rating will not get widespread distribution. Which means that the appeals board—sorry, I mean studio executives—won't support them.

Even putting aside the infected, ingrown nature of the ratings board and its board of appeals aside, I think that many parents aren't utilizing the MPAA ratings for their stated purpose any more. Why? Well, at best the MPAA is claiming that that all parents have the same rules concerning the appropriateness of movie elements for all children. Reality is that every parent has different rules—hopefully based on the fact that every child is different! That's why websites like Kids In Mind have come to the forefront. Kids In Mind has detailed synopses of films so parents can make informed decisions concerning the appropriateness of the film for their children.

In case you haven't noticed, I love movies. I really don't want to malign the studios, distributors, and theaters. But in all honesty, until the MPAA improves their entire process for ratings, I'd like to have as little as possible to do with them. If you're a parent, go to Kids In Mind and take the time to make your own informed decisions. If you're an adult, or your parents say it's ok, rent an independent film every once in a while. Maybe if we all do, things will change.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh


Nicole said...

I love that movie. It really opened my eyes about the ratings. I would try to expand on the ratings myself. I want to know what movies are violent so I don't let my kids watch them. But nudity is ok when they're older. I just watched it not too long ago and have also watched a few of the movies mentioned in it. If you haven't seen Boys Don't Cry, you should. Just be prepared to cry. I also love But I'm a Cheerleader. Too cute.

Rev. Josh said...

I think you would like Kids In Mind, while it takes some time to read through the descriptions, at least you know exactly how much and what kind of violence, nudity, etc to expect so you can make your own informed decisions.

I remember saying to the screen "Oh, sweetie, you need to get out of Nebraska," a lot when I watched Boys Don't Cry. And But I'm a Cheerleader is cute, but also eye-opening. It may not be for everyone, but it's certainly worthwhile in my book!