The Page Is Not Yet Rated – The Flawed System Of The MPAA

“Throughout its history and into the modern era, MPAA’s core mission has remained the same — to advance the business and the art of filmmaking and its enjoyment around the world.”

This is a direct quote from the MPAA website, MPAA stands for the Motion Picture Association of America. They are an American trade association that represents the 6 major Hollywood film studios.  Their job is to ‘advance the business and the art of filmmaking and its enjoyment around the world.’ As stated above, as well as administering the MPAA film rating system.

They rate the thematic and content suitability of films; then give the film a specific rating and short description of content. For example – Jack the Giant Slayer Rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language. This system is voluntary but most cinemas won’t show an un-rated film. Films need to be rated, that’s a given. A movie goer should know what sort of film they are about to watch. But, is the system outdated? Does it need a redesign to fit with modern attitudes towards: cursing, violence, nudity?

I’m going to use 2 films from the past few years as an example of where the MPAA got it wrong. My first example is – The Kings Speech, the Oscar winner from 2011. This film garnered an R rating in the US because of 17 uses of the F-word in the context of speech therapy. Not in the sexual sense, not out of anger, and not aimed at a specific person. This inspirational and heart-warming film had too many curse words and got the same rating a Saw. My second example is – Bully, the 2011 documentary which follows 5 school children who get bullied on a regular basis. The documentary is designed as an advocacy against bullying, the idea being that children would see the film and hopefully deal with bullying in a better way. The film was given an R rating due to language. A film created for kids to help combat to persistent that happens all around the world; can’t be seen without an adult.

Both these films fought their rating and managed to get the rating lowered to a PG-13, but not without a long and considerable fight. Which brings up the question how up to date are the MPAA’s guidelines? The guidelines state that you may use the F-word once as long as it’s not in a sexual context to get a PG-13 rating, there have been some exceptions; but it very rare that this won’t enforced. This means that films of great importance and where acts like swearing are meant with no malice like the Kings Speech and Frost/Nixon get R rating and effectively have large chunks of their audience taken away.

You can then look at a film like RED, a film that is hugely violent but because no blood is shed gets away with a PG-13 rating. It seems like odd logic. Shouldn’t film ratings emphasise the danger of guns instead of worrying about the amount of times someone swears? The director of The Kings Speech Tom Hooper pointed out that the MPAA gave the films Salt and Casino Royale PG-13 ratings even though they had graphic scenes depicting torture, but again because of there being a distinct lack of blood the films got a lighter rating.

Should there be a big change at the MPAA? Or are things ok as they are?

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