The Motion Picture Association of America
The Motion Picture Association of America
American Psycho, A Clockwork Orange, Boys Don’t Cry, and Clerks. What do all these movies have in common? They were all rated NC-17 at first viewing. The reason why they were rated as such is the real issue. They were rated NC-17 for the sexual content, either shown or talked about. The way in which it was presented in these movies made the MPAA give it an NC-17 rating. The MPAA found it offensive and inappropriate. The violence, some of it quite gruesome, was seen as less offensive and inappropriate according to the MPAA.
Despite their best efforts in trying to protect children and what they’re subjected to, the MPAA is utterly useless. The internet provides easy access to pornography and other sexual content by the click of a mouse. The boundaries made by the MPAA in regards to sexual content are unclear most of the time and the rating is inconsistent and gender biased. The MPAA has worn out its usefulness and should be entirely eliminated and replaced with a more democratic, fair and open rating system. A rating system for film has been around for quite a while. Since 1926, the film industry has been rated in some manner.
Back in 1926, much more was banned sexually and in terms of violence. “For almost 40 years the US film industry was governed by the Motion Picture Production Code, which banned nudity, drug use, religious ridicule, disrespect for the law and other depictions in film that would have the effect of lowering society’s moral standards” ( Feiser, np). Many movies back them were quite subtle compared to today’s day and age. Many filmmakers didn’t get adventuress and stayed well within the parameters of the rules because our society was more modest and pure. There was a much harsher strain on sexuality.
Romantic scenes were heavily scrutinized to uphold ‘the sanctity of the institution of marriage’ and ‘excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown’” (Feiser, np). Filmmakers had no option, they needed to comply with the code or their film would not be released. When the times changed, the rules needed to as well. “In 1966 the standards of the production code were relaxed, and two years later it was replaced with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) film rating system, which, in modified form, we follow today” (Fesier, np).
However, with this rating sysyem, filmmakers have the option to not follow the guidelines set in place. “Filmmakers can opt out by not submitting their films for rating and accept an NR (not rated) designation. But by taking NR rating, a film will have less theatrical distribution and will attract fewer viewers to movie houses. Thus, for mainstream films, participation in the rating system is a practical necessity” (Fesier, np). Many filmmakers are stuck when it comes to getting their movie rated because the MPAA is the only company out there that rates films so what they say goes.
Even though filmmakers can make their films NR, the film won’t get any publicity and will most likely fail. All filmmakers can do is hope for the best when they submit their film for rating. No filmmaker wants to receive an NC-17 rating because it would require severe editing and cutting of the film. Every filmmaker knows that sex is the only thing that will drastically effect a rating but the rules and guidelines of what sexual things are and aren’t allowed have never been stated by the MPAA and often times, it is shocking what is allowed in one film and not another.
Let’s first discuss the issue of masturbation in films. For example, Kevin Smith’s film Jersey Girl, released in 2004, was made by Kevin Smith for his daughter. It’s about one man’s struggle to be a single father after his wife dies in childbirth. The movie contains no nudity or sex scene. When Kevin Smith gave it to the MPAA for rating, Kevin Smith said “The MPAA gave Jersey Girl an R rating for a scene where Liv Tyler and Ben Affleck’s characters discuss masturbation in a diner” (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Dir. Kirby Dick, IFC Films, 2006, Film).
Kevin Smith, who disagreed with the film’s rating, talked to the head of the MPAA and her response was “It’s uncomfortable to think of my 16 year old daughter listening to this” (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Dir. Kirby Dick, IFC Films, 2006, Film). Kevin Smith then said in response, “Do you really think your daughter hasn’t masturbated? ” (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Dir. Kirby Dick, IFC Films, 2006, Film). Kevin Smith’s response, although quite brave, brings up quite a valid point. Masturbation is a natural part of life but the MPAA don’t want kids knowing about it.
The MPAA is incredibly gender biased when it comes to rating a film that includes physically showing masturbation. For example, in the film But I’m a Cheerleader, in its original viewing, it received an NC-17 rating. The director Jamie Babbit said that “The MPAA told me that in order to get an R rating, I would have to cut a scene where one of the girls is touching herself fully clothed” (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Dir. Kirby Dick, IFC Films, 2006, Film). The director, furious, then makes a great comparison when she uses the example of American Pie.
Jamie Babbit says “In American Pie, Jason Bigg’s character masturbates in an apple pie not fully clothed and yet that only received an R rating” (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Dir. Kirby Dick, IFC Films, 2006, Film). A scene much more vulgar and inappropriate receives an R rating because it’s a male and not a female that does the masturbating. A girl fully clothed rubbing herself or a male, with his pants down, masturbating in an apple pie. It’s almost as if the MPAA views guys masturbating as inappropriate but natural but a female masturbating is unnatural and worse.
That is insulting to women and angering as a film watcher. The MPAA is also quite harsh in their issue of physical sex between two people and sex scenes in movies. There are many perfect examples of movies being rated harshly, including NC-17 simply for sexual content over extreme violence like blood and gore, and mutilation. One example is when Marry Harron, the director of American Psycho, sent her movie to the MPAA for a rating. She asked the MPAA why it was rated as such and she paraphrases, saying “It was rated NC-17 but not for a scene of brutal mass murder with a chainsaw.
No brutal murder scene was the issue; the issue was a rear entry three way sex scene” (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Dir. Kirby Dick, IFC Films, 2006, Film). One scene determined this movie’s harsh rating. One sex scene was enough to overlook several scenes of brutal mass murder. This is just one of many movies that have gotten an NC-17 for one sex scene and not for anything else. For example, Blue Valentine was rated “NC-17 for a scene of explicit sexual content” (Berkeley Library, np). Crash, as well, was given an NC-17 rating for “numerous explicit sex scenes (Berkeley Library, np).
Even This Film Is Not Yet Rated was given an NC-17 rating due to “some graphic sexual content” (Berkeley Library, np). Maria Bello is an actress that was in The Cooler, which is another movie rated NC-17, this time because of Maria Bello’s pubic hair being shown in the sex scene. She gives her opinion in This Film Is Not Yet Rated when she says “I’ve always been such a fan of the way European filmmakers in the way they view sexuality which is real people and real bodies and it’s a way of life and human nature” (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Dir. Kirby Dick, IFC Films, 2006, Film).
She goes on to say that “We’ve desexualized sex because we’ve taken it out of being a day to day function. We’ve desexualized because we’re afraid of it” (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Dir. Kirby Dick, IFC Films, 2006, Film). David Anser, a film critic for Newsweek says that “Europe has always found America odd in sexual matters” (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Dir. Kirby Dick, IFC Films, 2006, Film). Finally, Allison Anders, a director, says that the US has become so strict in their policies of sex that it’s become a “denial of women pleasure, but of pleasure in general” (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Dir.
Kirby Dick, IFC Films, 2006, Film). Despite all of what is said, there are people who believe that movie censorship is a good thing. Jack Valenti, founder of the MPAA, has had to defend the MPAA and his opinion on censorship for years. He sent an article to the LA Times where he discusses why things are the way they are and why the MPAA is in fact successful. In the article, he states that “For the last 15 years, more than 70% of parents with children under 13 find the system to be “Very Useful” to “Fairly Useful” in helping them guide their children’s movie going” ( Valenti, np).
He then mentions that the 2006 poll showed that “an increase in approval by parents with children under 13 to 80%. Those who said the rating system was “Very Useful” rose 10% higher than last year. This latest poll underscores my central theme that parents, for whom the system was designed, are highly approving of what it does — they trust it” (Valenti, np). First of all, parents with children under 13 years of age are infected by the higher ratings because they can’t even be allowed into a PG-13 movie without a parent.
The high ratings are the ones that affect ages 15-18. He should poll those parents and see how many parents agree with the R to NC-17 rating, or even the PG-13 to R rating. Secondly, Matt Stone, co creator of South Park states that “Valenti brings up these statistics that say that 70% of parents find the ratings useful. I always felt like that was because they’re the only game in town. As compared to nothing at all, they probably are useful” (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Dir. Kirby Dick, IFC Films, 2006, Film). Having no ratings board at all would be chaos.
There needs to be a ratings board, there is no doubt about that. Having nothing at all would is not acceptable but since the MPAA is the only rating board that rates movies, they should be fair in their ratings as well as listen to directors arguments and try their best to accommodate. The MPAA refuses to ever change their minds or hear what anyone has to say. It’s their way or the highway. Unfortunately, the MPAA is not the end all be all in censorship. The internet, although a great tool, has little to no censorship and someone can find just about anything on the internet.
As John Waters put it “All teenagers, because of the internet, have seen more hard core pornography then their parents have seen. They’ve seen the most hideous things you can find on the internet and they’ve all seen it. All kids have searched and gone deep into web porn sites” (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Dir. Kirby Dick, IFC Films, 2006, Film). Although film is a huge media outlet, kids aren’t seeing any less hideous things just because they’re not allowed to see this movie or an inappropriate sex scene was cut out of a movie.
According to Internet Pornography Statistics, “The average age of a child’s first exposure to pornography is 11. A total of 90 percent of children ages 8-16 have viewed pornography online” (Ropelato, np). Another striking statistic is “15-17 year olds having multiple hard-core exposures is 80% and 8-16 year olds having viewed porn online is 90% (most while doing homework)” (Ropelato, np). Unfortunately, kids have so many options when it comes to pornographic sites. “There are 4. 2 million (12% of total websites) pornographic websites and 420 million pornographic pages” (Ropelato, np).
By censoring or harshly rating films based on sexual content, all the MPAA is doing is forcing kids to go online to find pornographic material and as proven, it is as easy as the click of the mouse. “Encino, California inside the headquarters of the Motion Pictures Association of America, an anonymous group of parents gather to rate film G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17. But the MPAA won’t let anyone inside to see who these people are or how they make their decisions and among their most controversial decisions are the movies they rate NC-17” (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Dir.
Kirby Dick, IFC Films, 2006, Film). The MPAA has been anonymous and their members have been unknown since the MPAA’s inception. This has come under much scrutiny with filmmakers and film producers because they believe they have a right to know who these people are that rate their films. There are many opinions as to why the MPAA members are unknown and one opinion is by Kimberly Pierce, director of Boys Don’t Cry. She says “You’re dealing with a very powerful, cultural censorship group that doesn’t want to be disempowered.
If you made those names public, you might disempower them” (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Dir. Kirby Dick, IFC Films, 2006, Film). Kirby Dick, the director of This Film Is Not Yet Rated asks John Lewis, author of Hollywood v. Hardcore “Is there any other review board in this country that you can think of in any industry besides the C. I. A. that is secret that operates in secrecy. ” John Lewis’s simple is a simple but powerful “No. ” The MPAA is the only other association besides the C. I. A. hat operates in secrecy.
There is something seriously wrong with that picture. All the MPAA does is rate movies, the C. I. A. helps keep our country from being destroyed. The C. I. A. risks their lives every day to protect us and MPAA members sit in a dark room and rate movies. There is no good reason why the MPAA should be secretive. Naturally, Jack Valenti had something to say as to the reason why board members names are unknown.
He told the L. A. Times “First, the Motion Picture Assn. f America withholds the names of the rating board members so they won’t be harassed by disgruntled producers. Grand jury members’ names are withheld; so are criminal jury members, all for the same reasons. There’s nothing sinister about this. We convey to the press, upon request, a brief biography of each rater. We could make public their names, but if we did, how would that advance the quality of the ratings? ” (Valenti, np). What Valenti doesn’t realize is that he has more disgruntled producers because the member’s names are unknown.
Producers have the right to know who rated their movie. Kirby Dick said it best when he told Joan Graves “It seems like the raters who you are trying to protect from influence actually are in direct contact with the people who can influence them, the senior rater’s especially” (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Dir. Kirby Dick, IFC Films, 2006, Film). The senior raters would, in all likelihood, have a huge impact in what rating a movie gets and the other raters would be more inclined to agree and give it the same rating as the senior rater did.
This is probably due to the fact that the raters have the opinion that the senior raters would know more knowledge of ratings and have more experience so therefore their rating must be the best rating for the film. Senior raters wouldn’t be the only ones that would influence raters, other raters as well would be able to convince another rater to give a rating. Even though Valenti tried to avoid influence, influence is still a big factor in the MPAA. Valenti also told the L. A. Times about the guidelines required to be an MPAA rater.
He told the L. A. Times that “They are parents, who see a film through the eyes of a parent. We have three senior raters who give historical knowledge to the system, have administrative duties and whose children, young when they started, are now over 17. The rest have younger children” (Valenti, np). Kirby Dick, director of This Film Is Not Yet Rated, hired a private investigator to discover the identities of the MPAA raters and find out if what Valenti said about them is in fact true. The investigator figured out the names of the raters on the 2005 board and discovered that what Valenti said wasn’t 100 percent accurate.
One rater was “Joan Worden, Age 56, Children: 18 year old twins” and “Howard Fridkin, Age 47, Children: none” (This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Dir. Kirby Dick, IFC Films, 2006, Film). Joan Worden has two twins who are old enough to see an NC-17 movie so how does she know what’s best for children to see? How is someone with no kids like Howard supposed to know what children should and should not see? Ultimately, it’s these factors that make the MPAA utterly useless and really more harm than good. The MPAA and the process of getting a game rated leaves many directors and producers frustrated.
The MPAA should be replaced by a rating system which has clear rules and regulations when it comes to how movies are rated. It should also consist of members names that are known so as to give the producers and directors some idea who rated their movie and therefore can discuss easily what needs to be done to get a different rating. This system should also treat violence as being a serious factor, like sex, that determines a movie’s rating. These factors are essential for a successful movie rating system that will benefit not only the movie makers but the audience as well.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 9 January 2017
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