This Film Offers Proof that The Motion Picture Association’s Rating System Is Rational But Not Perfect And While It Is Not Censorship It Is Arbitrary And One Sided. The MPAA Should Have Actors And Directors on The Appeals Board Instead Of Just MPAA Business People.
Director Kirby Dick attempts and fails to show that the MPAA rating system is censorship in disguise. Most of the film is concerned with the methods by which the system was investigated. This was done to show that the persons assigning the MPAA ratings are anonymous.
One has to wonder if these people were widely known would they be lobbied or wined and dined by the makers of a picture before a rating was granted. This criticism of the anonymous nature of the process of rating is disputable if not well taken.
After much investigation the film discloses the names, marital status and number and age of the children of the members of the Ratings Board. It also discloses that the members of the Appeals Board are industry executives, principally in the marketing divisions of major studios or distributors.
It turns out that the raters are all middle class people either with young children or who have raised children to adulthood. Two of the raters are affiliated with the Catholic or Protestant churches. The MPAA has always said that it wants average people on the board. And this seems to be the case.
Two members are non voting and are affiliated with the Catholic or Protestant churches. Not to include representatives from the two principle religious denominations would be folly and invite religious groups to boycott a film. The inclusion of religious members heads off religious controversy before it starts.
What Dick doesn’t discuss is that the ratings board is giving advice to moviegoers as to what to expect when they choose a movie to see. That is a valid activity.
Dick concerns himself with the R and NC 17 rating. An NC 17 rating usually means that the major exhibitors, like the multiplexes, will not run the film and the film will receive limited distribution in the so called Art House Cinemas. This means greatly reduced revenues for the film.
Many films were cited that had to shorten or eliminate scenes in order to get and R rating instead of an NC 17 rating.
FAIRNESS REQUIRES THAT ACTORS AND DIRECTORS HAVE SEATS ON THE RATINGS APPEALS BOARD
The Cooler initially received an NC 17 rating because Maria Bello’s pubic hair was shown for about 3 seconds in an otherwise innocuous love scene. The pubic hair seconds were cut with out damage to the love scene or the story and the film received an R rating. It went on to do about $8,291,572 in box office receipts domestically and about $2,000,000 overseas. One wonders if the producers left the pubic hair scene in when the film was submitted in order to create a controversy and thus gain some publicity. The R rating was for strong sexuality, language, and some drug use.
Alec Baldwin received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in this film, but Tim Robbins won for his role in Mystic River. Mystic River also had an R Rating for language and violence. Also the subject matter of Mystic River included murder and child molestation but that didn’t stop the picture from earning close to $150,000,000 at the box office. So for whatever reason the MPAA rating had little to do with box office receipts of the Cooler.
However if the film had not deleted the pubic hair and stayed with the NC17 rating it probably would have made less money in the Art houses. The subject matter was gambling and Las Vegas.
Another film that had a scene shortened was Boys Don’t Cry. It shows Brandon Teena, played by Hillary Swank, in a love scene with Chloe Sevigny where Miss Sevigny’s facial expressions infer she is having an orgasm. This facial scene of ecstasy lasted for too long according to the board and had to be shortened. The scene was shortened and the picture received and R rating for nudity, graphic violence, rape, language and drug abuse. The subject was the murder of Brandon Teena because she was a cross dressing lesbian. The film earned $11,540,607 in box office receipts and had two Academy Award nominations; Hillary Swank for Best Actress which she won and Cloe Sevigny for Best Supporting Actress which she lost to Angelina Jolie.
None of the actions of The MPAA ratings board shown in this film board suggest censorship or the altering of a story line that affects the picture’s success or failure. One suspects that the title of “This Picture Is Not Yet Rated” was a publicity stunt and the reason it was not rated was because it included all the outtakes of the above films as well as others.
This film shows no evidence of censorship of ideas or themes. Indeed most of the issues raised were about depicting sex in too explicit manner. The picture does make the valid point that violence seems to get lighter treatment than sex. Yet we are dealing with the exclusion of persons younger than seventeen and it seems that the seventeen and older people have already had exposure to explicit sex online or though X rated DVD’s. So it is unnecessary for the Rating Board to split hairs in granting a rating.
Also the film mentions that in order to get the active participation of the U.S. Military you must let them approve the script in advance. However this is not the MPAA rating boards doing and just confused the main issues raised by the film.
The difference between an Art House Release and a wider release in the multiplexes could mean profit or loss for a film. This film demonstrated few grounds for changing a rating system that works for the benefit of all including the artist and the audience. Otherwise outside pressure would politicize the process and we would end up with real censorship by entities outside the industry.
Director Dick doesn’t bring out that there are many different interest groups in the United States that could force the government to pass laws that are more stringent than they are now. This has already happened in broadcast television with the increase in fines to draconian levels for infringements.
Thus the MPAA has protected free speech from these types of laws in the area of film and even if a film receives a an NC 17 or X rating it still could receive a theatrical release in the Art Houses or distribution on DVD. Most films that receive a theatrical release or even just a DVD release are reviewed by the critics. Thus they are brought to the public awareness.
However in the end an R rating could mean commercial success for independent producers and artists who working on very tight budgets and without that profitability a voice or voices could be silenced in the future.
Therefore the appeals board should include actors and directors instead of just MPAA marketing people. This also was not directly said in the film but is a plausible solution to the major studios dominance of the MPAA rating system. This would mean that artists would have a voice in the final say on the rating of a film that could mean life or death for the artists and producers of the film involved.
It seems unfair that the ratings are entirely based on the opinions of non-artists. This film doesn’t say that but that is a conclusion inferred by this film.