Friday, January 28, 2011


The MPAA is a Body of people who review movies and based on what they see, they gather to put ratings on films. Now if a film maker wants to show their movie at a theater, they have to have a MPAA rating or their movie does not get shown. The ratings are given by a group of people who are just like you and me and have families. They range from different ages and come from different backgrounds. Once they submit the movie to the MPAA they will get a rating back of either G for general audiences or this movie is ok for all age groups to watch. PG for parental guidance is recommended or this movie is safe but might have some questionable subject matter in it Parents take warning. Or the film could get a rating of PG 13 which means that No one under 13 is allowed to watch the movie without a parent because of the questionable content. If the movie has several adult themes the movie will get an R rating which means that the movie is restricted no one under 17 allowed without a parent. In rare cases a movie is so graphic that a movie will get a NC-17 under no circumstances will anyone under 17 be allowed to view the film and that also means that the movie will not be distributed in the major theaters. If the film maker has a problem with what it was rated there is a rebuttal process that they can ask for and then they have a separate panel of people come in and review the film to see if they will change the rating. This process is completely “voluntary”.

This is how movies get released to theaters; the problem with this system is that the people rating the movies are not consistent in what it views as questionable material from one movie to the next. A movie involving a scene where two people involved in a sex act will get an R rating for one movie and if another movie shows two people of the same sex doing the exact same act it’s rated a NC-17. This inconsistency would indicate that an agenda or one belief structure manages the reviewers. There is a secret group of people who rate the movies and are supposed to be secret so they will not get approached by film makers to have them sway one way or another on a rating for a film. This practice also has its roots based on what government has on its mind as a hot topic. For example in 2007 the MPAA made a choice to include Smoking in its list of things it was going to rate against. “The Motion Picture Association of America recently announced that "depictions that glamorize smoking or movies that feature pervasive smoking outside of a historic or other mitigating context" will be taken into account by the organization's rating board -- joining the ranks of other film taboos such as profanity, nudity, drug use, and violence.” (Goldstein) Another inconsistency needs to be brought up; if a big studio submits a film they will get detailed notes on how to alter their film to get a more favorable rating. In an Interview with Kirby Dick the director of the Documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated Joan M. West and Denis West have this to say about the mindset of the MPAA “Valenti confidently pronounces that, "I have Valenti's Law, which says that if you make a movie that a lot of people want to see, no rating will hurt you. If you make a movie few people want to see, no rating will help you. Ratings have nothing to do with box office." (West and West) Roger Ebert explains in his review of Kirbys Film “The whole kangaroo court is founded on a doozy of a Catch-22: The MPAA insists that it has procedures that it applies evenhandedly. But the procedures are secret so nobody can tell what they are. If something is not allowed, it's because it's against the invisible rules.” (Ebert)The differences in how film makers are treated further highlighted by this example if an Independent film maker submits a film all they get back is a rating and no notes, and when they ask for feedback the response is we are not film makers you have to make changes and resubmit the film. This shows that big studios get preferential treatment from an organization that says whether or not a film gets a rating that distributors are going to want to support. The level or focus on what is being rated is also disproportionate, if you have a film where a person is attacking a woman you get a rating of PG but if you make love to a woman in a film that’s an R rating. Sean Means from the Salt lake Tribune said the following about how biased the violence is. “for example, [Rodger Ebert] proclaimed Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" "the most violent [film] I have ever seen," and said "The MPAA's R rating is definitive proof that the organization either will never give the NC-17 rating for violence alone, or was intimidated by the subject matter. If it had been anyone other than Jesus up on that cross, I have a feeling that NC-17 would have been automatic." (Means)
As it turns out the varied group of people are all ages 40 to 50 that had school aged children and none of them do now. So it would seem that the wide variety of people are not so varied and only represent a small margin of the population. The board of people who come in during a rebuttal viewing are all executives of Film distributers and members of the Film production companies. A letter to the editor of the Baltimore sun from Kathy Ratchford sums up this nicely “Having been an avid movie-goer for many years, I don't mean to attack the entire film industry. I simply want to suggest that the MPAA should get with the times and allow the public to make its own choices. Young people today do and know more at a younger age than the people who are rating these films.” (Ratchford)This system is obviously flawed, Amy Wallace pointed out in her article in the Los Angeles Times “At issue: How to give parents guidance about film content while preserving filmmakers' artistic freedom. Critics of the current MPAA rating system--which uses the symbols G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17--say it fails on both counts, neither fully informing consumers nor protecting cinematic creativity.” (Wallace) what we need to do to set things right is to make the system be less about a group of people making judgments and about letting viewers know what is in a film. Giving the viewer power over choosing what they want to watch and that can be the measure of what gets shown and what does not. We need to institute a Labeling system, if there is violence in a film, at the bottom of the poster we see it listed, if there is sexual content list it, same for anything that might be questionable. That way the MPAA will just need to have people watch the film and tally what they see, it removes the judgment or agenda from what rating a film gets, a film gets rated on what are in the film not someone’s impressions of what they see. We do not have to abolish the MPAA we get to empower parents and viewers to make judgments on their own and the system becomes fairer.

As the system seems to be controlled by the big studios they do not want to easily lose the control over this market. Ramona and Parachini address one point that Jack Valenti clams the MPAA protects agents. “The MPAA, led by its president, Jack Valenti, offers a stock response to criticism. If the MPAA did not exist, so Valenti says, filmmakers would have to contend with hundreds of local governmental rating boards. We reject this argument as unsubstantiated, self-serving and a weak attempt to justify arbitrary MPAA censorship.” (Ripston and Parachini) Studios have had a history of not wanting to give up control; it took a lawsuit and the threat of government sanctions to release the monopoly that the big Hollywood studios had in the early days. They had a vertical market and owned the manufacture and distribution of films so that independent companies could not even get a foot in the door. This plan will work and will allow them to see how much better the balance will be served. One way is to show them that having independent film makers as competitors to invigorate competition would be a good thing. The other reason this would be good is that they would have access to film makers as a first draft, use the MPAA as a rookie recruitment area. Working with the little guys can have benefits.

The tight controls that are on the system now can’t last forever, with more and more focus on this issue it will be impossible to not get asked questions on how this monopoly has continued. Moving toward a more put the power of choice in the hands of the masses will bring this industry back in line with what people want. People don’t want to have their information filtered through a lens of someone else belief structure, people want to be the ones to control what content they feel is inappropriate or not. Voting by the dollar is a language that this industry knows. Make it a point to watch Independent films take a risk on films that are not screen by the MPAA. The Audience needs to wake up and start thinking for themselves. If people feel strongly about this problem they need to write to the MPAA and suggest a change to give freedom to artist and information to viewers.

Works Cited
Ebert, Roger. This FIlm Is Not Yet Rated. 15 Septemper 2006. 26 July 2010 .
Goldstein, Evan R. "Smoking in the Movies." The Chronicle of Higher Education (2007): 4.
Means, Sean P. "Can the MPAA Smoke out the Problems in its ratings system?" Salt Lake Tribune (2004): D2.
Ratchford, Kathy. "Letters To The Editor." The Baltimore Sun Company (1991): 6A.
Ripston, Ramona and Allan Parachini. "MPAA's Big Chance to Change ." Los Angeles Times (1997): 3.
Wallace, Amy. "Analysis;Do Ratings Need New Categories." Los Angeles Times (1999): 1.
West, Joan M and Dennis West. "MPAA RAtings , Black Hoels, and My film: an Interview with Kirby Dick." Cineaste 32 (2006): 14-19.