MPAA Reform? The Hard R and More

Well, I’ll be damned. It looks like Kirby Dick’s little movie on the ratings system may have done some good.

This Film is Not Yet Rated poster imageDick’s 2006 documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated didn’t have much in the way of new information for those of us who have been griping for years about the inconsistencies and arbitrariness of the MPAA’s movie ratings system, which seems to systematically favor studio pictures over indies and also to employ a violence-pass filter which favors increasingly chaotic depictions of carnage over the kind of sensible and nuanced depictions of adult relationships that often characterize smaller films.

But Dick did highlight some of the arbitrariness of movie ratings and revealed some plain BS in its public statements, like the bogus claim that all of the (anonymous) members of the ratings board are parents themselves, presumably struggling regularly with the question of which films their own young children are ready to see.

According to Variety, the MPAA is ready to begin publicizing the guidelines it applies in rating films, and demystify the actual rating and appeal processes. Filmmakers will, for the first time, be allowed to cite scenes from other films in making their case for receiving a similar rating — which may help the case of those indies who complain studio films get a pass — though the MPAA says “context” will still be an important factor in the decision (in other words, gay sex will probably still be a problem spot compared to its straight equivalent). And the long-standing requirement that movie raters have children of MPAA-influenced age will apparently finally be enforced.

Most significantly for moviegoers, the new rules seem to formalize a certain category of explicit picture that’s long been known as a “hard R” by adding a note to the rating indicating that the film is not suitable for young children. (They will still be allowed to see the movie if their parents really want to take them — but maybe, just maybe, this will reduce the number of toddlers and grade-schoolers who get dragged unwittingly to movies like Turistas by obstinately clueless parents.)

The industry obviously wants very much to include more extreme content under the banner of an R rating, while being resistant to creating a more restrictive rating (NC-12, for example) to apply to those movies or just out-and-out categorizing them as adults-only (NC-17). It does say something about the U.S. market for movies that giving a film an actual no-children-allowed rating is considered commercial suicide.

1/18/07 UPDATE: Kirby Dick himself has responded, in a press release: “The MPAA’s reforms simply address the public’s perceptions of the system, rather than effecting real change in the system itself. All the basic problems of the ratings system remain: its secrecy and lack of accountability; its bias toward independent and gay filmmakers; its excessively harsh rating of films with adult sexuality.” Points taken, but isn’t there some hope that, with the departure of Jack Valenti, this is a step toward real forward movement inside the ratings system?

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