The Motion Picture Association of America, otherwise known as the MPAA, is the group of people who rate the movies we watch and enjoy. But the question is; is this so called rating system flawed? I think so, and I know a lot of other people think so too. The rating system for modern audiences is skewed by an outdated particular belief system, there are no rules or guidelines to rating a certain movie, and the whole thing is just useless nowadays.
Let’s begin with a short history of the MPAA. In 1922, the “big three” motion picture studios founded the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, headed by Will H. Hays. Later in 1930 they crested Motion Picture Production Code, otherwise known as the Hays Code. This system put the movies we watch into two categories, acceptable and unacceptable. Then it was later replaced by the MPAA system that we all know today, founded by Jack Valenti. The systems goal was to protect filmmakers’ creative and artistic freedoms, while fulfilling its core purpose of informing parents about the content of films so they can determine which movies are appropriate for their children. The system went through some changes like the adding of PG-13, the evolution of PG, and the changing of X to NC-17 (I go through more detail in paragraph six) to get to the five ratings that we all have gotten to know so well, G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17. The MPAA’s goals have been the same as they were when they started and their systems for rating each movie is too, but as we all know, were not in the 60s anymore.
One more thing before we get into the messy stuff, I think we should go through each of the ratings. G means “general audiences” where all ages are admitted. Generally in a movie that gets a G, there can be a minimal amount very mild violence and it should be cartoonish. There is no nudity, sex, or drugs of any kind in this kind of film and tobacco and alcohol can be used in small amounts, but by adult characters, not by minors. Next up is PG which means “parental guidance” where some material may not be suitable for children. Movies like this can have mild violence but a little more than G, some language and drug references and a little bit of sexual content. The third rating is the most grossing rating and the most controversial, PG-13 which means “parents strongly cautioned” where some material may not be appropriate for children under 13. Movies like this can have even more violence, as long as there is no blood, even more language and drug references and even drug use, even more sexual content and occasionally partial nudity. In a PG-13 movie you can also say up to about one F-word as long as it is not in a sexual fashion. Now were down to R which means “restricted” where anyone under 17 must be accompanied by a parent. Movies like this can have strong violence and gore, strong language, crude sexual content, nudity, and hard drug use. R may be one from the harshest rating but I feel like it’s one of the least controversial. Usually parents know what they’re getting themselves into with these. Now to our fifth and final rating, NC-17 which means “no one 17 & under permitted” where only adults over the age of 17 are permitted to see this movie. Movies like this can have brutality/strong graphic violence, explicit sexual content, extreme crude language including strong sexual references, large amounts of swearing, and hard drug use. The rating NC-17 is the kiss of death for filmmakers because with a rating like that how are you going to get any audience. It may as well mean no distributors admitted because no one will want to distribute your film with such a rating. There was a little rundown to the ratings and the system. Now, let’s get to the problem with them.
Have you ever been insulted by the content in a certain movie? Maybe you have, but probably not to the point of where it takes you out of the film. You gasp and then you get over it and continue to watch your movie. But because the MPAA has an obsolete belief system, they put things that have no relevance to the modern world. This brings me to the controversy over the infamous F-word and its presence in a certain movie. A normal PG-13 movie will be able to have around one presence of the F-word if it is not in a sexual context and if it is its R and if it’s in there more than once, it’s R. So this brings us to our first controversy over the Oscar winning film, The King’s Speech. This movie was originally labeled as R before its release for 17 uses of the F-word and the filmmakers were not happy. They went to try to talk to the MPAA in hopes of appealing the rating and gaining a PG-13. They used the argument that the word was not used in any way except just saying it. The character says it during his speech class and none of them are in a sexual context, none of them are pointed toward someone or something, and it isn’t out of anger either, he just says it. Also, they weren’t teaching anybody anything different. I bet you wouldn’t be able to find one person over the age of four who doesn’t know what the F-word is and one person who hasn’t heard it over the age of seven. In the past it was a much more sacred thing to use profanity in films and it’s not like that anymore. Now this brings us to the next problem, the presence of violence over sexual content in movies. The MPAA believes that there can be almost any amount of violence in a PG-13 film as long as there is no blood, but a movie with a little bit of sexual content gets an R or even an NC-17. A lot of people believe that violence is much worse than sexuality and that violence should be the things looked down upon. The movie Sin City contains very strong violence and gore and got an R rating and the movie The Dreamers got an NC-17 for sexual content even though people have stated that the content wasn’t that bad and it didn’t deserve it. The new system was established by Jack Valenti on November 1, 1968 and hasn’t changed much since…is this really a good thing? I don’t think so.
The rating system the MPAA uses has five very well-known ratings for each movie, G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17. Parents and Americans in general have used it for more than 40 years but did you know that there is no specific law or standard to rating a film. The MPAA’s raters rate movies but without any guideline and they usually just make it up as they go and bring up stupid opinions to the table that may not have any effect on the rest of the audiences. Now I have a big problem with this because of a little movie called Constantine. Constantine was a 2005 Keanu Reeves movie about angels and demons and was labeled with the rating R from the MPAA. The problem is that I have no idea why it was rated R and I know other people think this way too. It said the F-word once and that can be in a PG-13 movie and the violence wasn’t that intense. But guess why the MPAA gave this movie an R rating, for violence and demonic images. Demonic images? I didn’t even know they put that into account. This is why I have such a problem with this system, there’s no standard. The 2010 possession film The Last Exorcism got a PG-13 rating and it was all about getting a demon out of a girl and so did the 2010 M. Night Shyamalan movie Devil. The violence part of it is stupid too. The violence in it was not that intense. The 2011 MMA fighter film, Warrior was given a PG-13 rating and the violence in that was a lot more intense. You all know the 2000 Christian Bale film American Psycho. Well the MPAA wanted to give this an NC-17 rating when it came out just because of the whole tone of the movie. How can a filmmaker change the tone of a movie? So after an appeal it was given the R without any editing to the film, but you can see why this is aggravating. Also, the MPAA seems to be more lenient towards mainstream big budget films rather than smaller independent films. A big studio movie will more likely be given an R rather than an NC-17 than an indie. With no rules to the way a film is rated, how can you be sure something is appropriate for your kids and also I just think it’s a sin to keep great movies away from some people just because it says a word in it.
Although I and a lot of others believe that the MPAA’s rating system is flawed and outdated, is it useless? Actually, in a way, it is. “It’s time for people to condemn the MPAA and their outrageous antics. We’re heading towards an age when we don’t need a mommy-like organization to dictate what our delicate sensibilities can and can’t be exposed to.” This statement was said by slashfilm.com managing editor David Cohen, and I think he is right. The MPAA does not take things that are relevant to today and they more of look to past problems for solutions to the problems in movies today. Americans have changed and matured since the 60s and things aren’t he same as then. The MPAA is not a good source to see if a movie is appropriate. One example is the 1988 Tom Hanks classic Big. This movie was labeled as PG even though it had some sexual content and even one use of the F-word and the PG-13 rating had been enacted for four years by then and the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off gained a PG-13 because it had one use of the F-word. Interesting, right? Also the Oscar winning 1989 film, Dead Poet’s Society got a PG rating and it had nudity in it and even a portrayal of suicide. Do you want your little ones seeing that? But I mean it doesn’t really even matter. These days’ people don’t really use the system to its full use anymore. Most people just look to see if a movie is R or not R. People don’t look in between unless they have a very little one. 78% of parents say that the MPAA’s ratings are useful…that’s because it’s the only one. There is no other system, so yes, it will be useful. Although the relevance of the system is questionable, it is better than nothing. But, it could use an update. It’s a travesty to keep great movies away from some people just because it says a word in it.
The MPAA makes some ridiculous decisions but it still has some followers who like the system and how they do it now. In fact, the system has changed a little bit since its original release. In 1969 they changed the M rating of the original system to GP due to confusion with parents between this and R and then it was changed to PG in 1970. Explicit violence and gore in such films as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Poltergeist, Clash of the Titans, and Gremlins led to the adoption of PG-13 in 1984. Then lastly, in 1990 the original x-rating was replaced by NC-17 to give you the five ratings we have today. Some people do think that the ratings should be more of an opinion than a decreed law. Also, the system is already well-known nationwide, why change it? Everyone knows it and knows how it works so why go through such an alteration as completely transforming it. Parents want to be protective of their children and what they can see. Maybe it’s good that the MPAA is a little stricter and gives its ratings for the public to decide.
Roger Ebert, the famous movie critic from the Chicago Sun Times said, “the MPAA should have changed it’s standards long ago, taking into account the context and tone of a movie instead of holding fast to rigid checklists.” Now, is this really true? Yes, I think so. The rating system is twisted by beliefs that have no relevance of today’s audiences, there are no standards or guidelines to rating a certain film, and really, if you think about it, it’s pretty useless. I told you all about what the MPAA prefers and the stupid bias it has on certain movies. The MPAA’s rating system is flawed and should be changed for modern and future audiences. The MPAA is not yet rated and if it had, it would get a big steamy NC-17.