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MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America)

The body that provides film ratings in the US.

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The Following Review is Rated R

  • Nov 12, 2009
In hindsight the MPAA rating system seemed like a great idea.  In some ways it still is.  Giving movies a ratings is good for parents in terms of making sure some of them know the content that's in a movie before letting a child see it.  That's what's nice about the MPAA rating system.  And it would be nicer if it actually worked. 

The MPAA ratings board mostly consists of people who will watch movies and take notes on the content that's in the movie and then rate it accordingly.  Of course it sounds like a great idea.  Now you can be warned if a movie has say... Strong Sexual Content, if it's too violent... has bad images or language etc..  Unfortunately this is where the biggest problems with the MPAA come in.  How they weigh all this and how they assign a rating based on these things is sometimes downright confusing and other times downright ludicrous.  Other times it seems very unfair because certain films will be treated in some ways based on who is behind it, or based on whether or not it's mainstream or independent.  Some also argue that it plays into censorship.  It doesn't play into censorship.  The MPAA isn't actually censoring anything.  You can still do whatever, it just makes a difference in whether or not your film will get support.  It's not censorship... it's regulation.

Certainly the idea behind the MPAA rating system had good intentions when it began.  After all, perhaps it's a good thing that you know how incredibly violent a film like Sin City is before deciding on whether or not to take your kid to see it.  In that regard the MPAA is kind of nice.  On the other hand, what's wrong with the MPAA is HOW they rate movies.  Not necessarily the ratings themselves.  We all know the basic breakdown of the ratings.  There's G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17.  That last one should have an asterisk because it's the rating any film maker really wants to avoid.  But once again, it's how these films will get these ratings that's important here.  Not so much the rating itself.  Some argue that the MPAA is harsh while others argue it's too soft.  Strangely enough, both are correct.  It really depends on what's on the table.  For a film like say... The Dreamers, the MPAA rating system was too harsh.  For a film like Sin City it might've actually been a little soft.  We'll talk about that shortly.

Do me a favor will you?  Grab a DVD off your shelf and look on the back of it.  Now look for the rating.  On some DVDs this can be pretty tough.  I pulled out Little Miss Sunshine.  On the back right next to its "R" rating it says: Language, Some Sex and Drug ContentLittle Miss Sunshine is actually a great example because it's a film we can look at and question if an "R" rating is a bit much.  An R Rating means no one under the age of 17 is allowed to go in without an accompanying adult.  If you've ever seen Little Miss Sunshine you might actually say to yourself, "Is this movie REALLY not suitable for a fifteen or sixteen year old?"  If you're answer is "yes" I think you're underestimating what your child is exposed to in school (particularly if he or she is a teenager).  Little Miss Sunshine does have language.  A lot of "F-Bombs" and discussions of sexual things (and there's a gay guy) and a Grandpa who happens to be addicted to heroine... although you never actually see him snort it.  In truth, the stuff you're warned against is hardly all that big of a deal.  It received that rating partially because it's an independent film, and also because it was the Langauge factor more so than the other two.  You're only allowed to uses of the word "FUCK"  twice in order to maintain a PG-13 rating.  Anymore than that and you get an "R".  Speed is the perfect example as well.  There are F-Bombs all over, but more people die in The Dark Knight and the lastest James Bond movie than in Speed.  But the use of the word "FUCK" just really bothered them (as if teenagers don't use and hear that word). 

For Little Miss Sunshine, the rating seems harsh because for the most part... there's nothing in here that any teenager wouldn't be aware of.  They're teenagers so I guarantee you they hear the word "FUCK" a lot (I have now used the word "FUCK" four times... this review is rated R).  If they're over the age of 12 they probably went through D.A.R.E which means they probably learned what Heroine was in school as it is... and do I really have to remind you that a lot of schools will teach Sex Ed to kids around the age of 10 and 11?  For some this means nothing... to me this means quite a bit.  This is for a couple of reasons.  The first is that I think what people can handle is greater than what others think.  But the biggest reason is because when it comes to maturity... people grow up at very different paces.  When you start getting into those high school years this especially true.  Slapping an "R" rating on any movie is tough because you are now telling people that at age 17 they'll be mature enough for it... as if we can control when someone becomes mature.  

The biggest problem is the MPAA is far more harsh on Independent Films than Mainstream Films.  If you're aiming to get a certain rating (let's just say: "PG-13") and it's a mainstream film... the MPAA will gladly tell you what you need in order to get to that rating if you've gone too far.  Matt Stone talked about how with Orgazmo it received an NC-17 rating but they didn't tell him how he could change it.  It was an independent film that had no major studio backing.  He then described how when it came to South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut it was initially given an NC-17 rating... but because it was backed by a major studio they gave him a list of everything needed to reduce it to an "R" Rating.  It was strange to learn about, but more than that it seemed like the reason they did it is because most Independent Films aren't guaranteed to rake in money while most Mainstream films are.

The line between each rating can also be very thin.  Let's take jumping from PG-13 to R, and another example.  Let's look at The Dark Knight.  The film is very dark and very violent.  There was only one factor that kept the film from getting an "R" rating... the use of blood.  Whenever someone gets shot in The Dark Knight... they don't bleed.  Because there is no blood the film was able to receive a PG-13 rating.  Oh, and because the potential to make a lot of money for the film industry was there.  With Zack Snyder's 300 the film nearly got an NC-17 for being so violent... but didn't because Snyder used CGI blood that disappeared when it hit the ground.  Seriously, disappearing blood is why 300 got away with an "R" rating.

Not only is the line thin, but most times the MPAA just isn't consistent.  The Dark Knight gets a PG-13 rating despite its violence... but Speed gets an "R" Rating for using the word FUCK more than two times.  With Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King you have scenes in there where the bad guys are literally catapulting heads.  In most films a severed head would've been an instant "R" rating... not Lord of the Rings... because Lord of the Rings is a big budget film and they didn't want to give it an "R" rating because it wouldn't have made nearly as much money.  It makes little sense.

This is even worse when you bring sexuality into the mix.  The Dreamers is an independent film that was rated NC-17 because of sexual content.  Really, that's about it.  It's not graphic sex either.  In truth, The Dreamers just has a lot of nudity.  A LOT of nudity.  This includes at more than one moment... full frontal male nudity.  And that's when you're crossing the line according to the MPAA.  You can show full frontal female nudity, but the moment you flash a penis on screen?  BAM! NC-17.  Unless it's a quick flash (like Forgetting Sarah Marshall).  If you have sex in your film... anything below the waist is considered bad.  This is why even in R-Rated films you see the sheets brought over the characters.  Homosexuality also bites the big one.  Unless a gay character is being used for comedic effect you are almost guaranteed an "R" Rating or higher.  Two guys kissing is considered too graphic.  Two girls kissing... hey that's okay.  

Let's be clear.  We are NOT talking pornography, here.  Just nudity.  I'm pretty sure that no one is going to watch The Dreamers and masturbate to Eva Green.  The movie actually has a plot and a big message.  And you know what?  The Dreamers happens to be a pretty damn good movie.  But it was slapped with an NC-17.  And if there's one thing you never want... it's to have your film slapped with an NC-17 rating.  No studio wants to distribute it and no one wants to advertise it.  Because NC-17 is the taboo of the filming industry.  There are TONS of NC-17 movies out there... you've just never heard of them because no one wants to get the word out.

If there's one thing I'll NEVER understand about the MPAA it is the idea that sex and nudity is far more evil than violence.  In the film Boys Don't Cry, for example, there's a scene where Hillary Swank's character is brutally beaten.  That was, at least for the MPAA... fine.  But showing Swank's Pubic Hair was the straw that broke the camel's back.  How dare they show pubic hair!  A trans gendered person being beaten up (and even raped in one scene) was perfectly fine.  It was the pubic hair that got to them.  How absurd.  Oh, and that she stuffed a dildo in her underwear.  The film was eventually tempered to have an "R" Rating.

Sin City is violent.  It gets by because it's in black and white mostly, but Sin City depicts violence very heavily and strongly and floats by with an "R" rating somehow.  It probably did have an NC-17 rating before release so they edited it... but the point still stands that this incredibly violent (and incredibly GOOD) film sweeped by with an "R" Rating. The Dreamers shows one penis and everyone freaks out.  To me that seems backwards.  But I guess a penis really is that dangerous.  

It isn't just showing sex... it's also discussions of sex.  Even talking about masturbation might turn on a red light and cause your film to get a higher rating.  Allow me to say that if you have a teenager... he or she probably knows what masturbation is.  You can scream about sex being evil all you want... but your kid--especially if he's a teenager--knows much more than you give him or her credit for.   When I was sixteen my parents threw a fit over me watching The Dreamers because of its sexual content.  When I kindly pointed out that I know what a penis looks like because I go to the bathroom everyday I got in trouble for being a smart ass.  I wasn't trying to be a smart ass.  I was only trying to express to them that it wasn't like I didn't know what sex was already.

Again, we're not talking about pornography... just depictions of nudity or the act of love making on screen.  I understand that some like to say the big difference is that sex is a very private thing... but the nature of violence is a bit more graphic--especially in films today.  It just doesn't seem that way because most of us have been desensitized to violence... so Sin City doesn't seem all that bad in comparison to The Dreamers because we're so used to violence that it no longer phases us in film. 

When I went to go see Watchmen I recall a mother chiding one of my friends for saying, "This is going to be so fucking awesome!"  She immediately told him not to swear because her nine-year old daughter was with her.  That's right... a nine-year old... sitting through Watchmen.  And what was the biggest offense to the parent?  Dr. Manhatten's Penis.  Not the brutal killing of the dogs (or even the bloody pieces of a child)... not Rorschach hitting a man with a cleaver and blood spraying everywhere or Dr. Manhatten blowing up vietnam soldiers and whatnot... it was the penis.  So it's fine for your daughter to want to grow up and kill people... but God help her if she should ever be approached by a penis (I almost said to the mother, "You know, your daughter is going to want a penis eventually..." but my friends advised me that perhaps I shouldn't be a dick to a mother in front of her daughter).  A nine year old probably shouldn't sit through Watchmen... but Dr. Manhatten's glowing penis should be the least of your worries. 

I understand that sex is a little much for say... a ten year old and younger.  But once you get into those teenage years--high school in particular--the line between maturity and immaturity might as well be drawn in the sand.  Especially when it comes to the topics of sex and violence.  But don't punish the movies because they include this kind of content.  You have bad parents, sure (and some sneaky children--I was one of those) but when did the television or the cinema become the babysitter?  I'm not blaming the children for the MPAA ratings system making no sense... I'm blaming the people who are always screaming "PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!" and then telling people what it is we need to fear when it comes to children.  I wasn't allowed to do anything I wanted as a kid and my parents were pretty big about restricting me from watching certain things... but they also knew me better than some stupid ratings system does.  I watched my first R-Rated movie at seven years old... my parents there... and knew what I could handle (I never said I could watch ANY R-Rated film).  In this present day my friends chide me quite often for being a pacifist and sometimes a prude.  I'm not saying everyone turns out like me... or that I'm even perfect.  I'm only suggesting that some of this, "Think of the Children," stuff is paranoia.  It's part of this mentality that the MPAA rating system doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

There's nothing wrong with having a ratings system to keep parents informed.  But what does it say when the ratings system is used more for the sake of making money than it is for informing parents of the content in films?  And what does it say about us when we have to fear a guy with a boner MORE than the guy with a gun holding us up and taking our wallet? 

Quite a bit.  Quite a bit indeed.

What did you think of this review?

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January 13, 2010
Great fucking points!
November 19, 2009
I absolutely love this review. Can I have your official permission to e-mail it to the MPAA? Seriously, I'd love to see what they have to say, because they've got a lot of explaining to do.
November 14, 2009
amazing write up. As you know I don't agree with censorship in any shape or form but I do wish that the ratings system aren't being done by a bunch of bureaucrats. Unfortunately filmmaking is treated more like an industry than an art form. Ratings have to be done by film fans! I need to watch this "film is not yet rated"...
November 14, 2009
It's all so strange, though.  Like, I'm okay with making a system that sort of gives people a heads up and all... but imagine if you walked into a book store and saw on the front cover of a book: "This Book is Rated R for Strong Language, Sexual Content and Drug Content," or something like that?

It's just very mixed up I think.  The idea of a ratings system for a heads up isn't bad, but it just doesn't work.  And some things that they rate movies for are just dumb.  Superbad was Rated R and it said something like "Graphic Language, Sexual Content, Drugs and Alcohol," but the kicker was that it said on there: "All involving teens..."  I was like... huh?
More MPAA (Motion Picture Associati... reviews
Quick Tip by . July 19, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
In hindsight the MPAA rating system seemed like a great idea. In some ways it still is. Giving movies a ratings is good for parents in terms of making sure some of them know the content that's in a movie before letting a child see it. That's what's nice about the MPAA rating system. And it would be nicer if it actually worked.
Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The ratings system put out by the MPAA seems to be overtly prudish when it comes to sex and not strict enough when it comes to violence.
review by . May 13, 2009
One of the greatest - and most subversive - effects of the Interweb has been the total collapse of censorship. Centuries of unelected secretive bodies deciding what we should and shouldn't see, think or do have been comprehensively sidelined by the web, where control is handed back to the viewer.   In a world where teenagers are 'sexting' each other with lewd images on their cell phones (and bizarrely enough being charged with sex crimes designed to protect minors), and every connected …
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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