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25.7.14

WRITTEN REVIEW: This Film is Not Yet Rated

By FOREST TAYLOR
The Motion Picture Association of America sucks. Sorry for that rather direct opening statement, but I think it's important to get my opinions out in the open before I start this review. When it started in 1968, the MPAA ratings board was intended to inform parents about objectionable material in films as well as protect filmmakers from government censorship. Since then however, it has served only to protect big Hollywood studios from any competition and seems to be one of the biggest supporters of censorship. All in the name of "protecting the children", the MPAA has done more to hinder the distribution of art than any government censorship group could ever hope for.

Kirby Dick's 2006 documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated seeks to expose the MPAA for the hypocrisy that they openly display. Currently, the MPAA rates films with five different ratings (G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17). They claim that these ratings are best to let parents know what films are inappropriate for children. An even casual glance at the rating system will reveal the glaring flaws in that line of thinking. First, as almost anyone already knows, the ratings board is far more strict on depictions of sex than they are towards violence. What's even more disturbing is the fact that the raters (who are supposed to represent the typical American parent, whatever the hell that means) tend to lean toward far more conservative, traditional values all the time. So it should surprise no one that depictions of gay sex or sex that is deemed "abnormal" almost always receive an NC-17 rating whereas similar scenes depicting straight or more traditional sex may get away with an R. But it's not just showing sex that brings down the wrath of the MPAA. Simply talking about sex may garner an adult rating as well (one of the best scenes in the movie is when Kevin Smith remembers his shock to find that Clerks originally received an NC-17 rating just because it had people talking about fucking in it). Of course, artistic intent or context is never considered by the ratings board (a film about the Holocaust will be treated with the same regard as the most gratuitous of torture porn), and the filmmakers have no recourse when they receive their rating. If a director gets an undesired rating, they have to take their case to the appeals board.

What's the appeals board, you ask? Well, it's a group that listens to the director's case and then decides if the rating should be changed or not. However, this is not like a regular court hearing where you can cite precedent. The filmmaker is not allowed to compare their film to any other film for... some reason. They also don't tell filmmakers what specific scenes the ratings board had issue with, so the whole thing become some sort of bizarre shell game (Trey Parker and Matt Stone actually added more gratuitous scenes to "Team America" just so they could keep the stuff they actually wanted in the film). And extra points if you guessed that it's always an uphill battle for independent filmmakers! The appeals board almost always favors films by major Hollywood studios as opposed to indie and foreign films.


But worst of all is the fact that the ratings board contains no child behavior experts. Most child psychologists seem to agree that films glamorizing violence almost always have a negative affect on child development. I'm a little skeptical about their findings, but it may be a good idea to appoint some experts in child psychology as raters. But no, the MPAA insists that they only want ordinary people on the board (whatever the hell that means). So, when movies show even the slightest hint of sexuality, they're already approaching R territory, but an action hero can gun down hundreds of people and it gets a PG-13, so long as they don't show any blood.

Some people wonder why filmmmakers care so much about NC-17 ratings. What's wrong with an adult rating? The answer should be "nothing", but since Hollywood is run by money it actually matters quite a bit. Once a film gets rated NC-17, its advertising could be cut in half or more. Also, most major theater chains refuse to show NC-17 rated movies because they think they don't make enough money. But they don't make enough money primarily because most major theater chains refuse to show them! Does this make any sense to anyone?

Probably the most insidious thing about the MPAA is the fact that they keep the identities of their raters a secret so the filmmakers don't even know who is rating their movies. Obviously, Kirby Dick feels the same way and he hires a private investigator to find the raters' identities. The lengths the MPAA goes to to hide their raters is so comically over the top that you'd think they were trying to break into the CIA or something. Suffice to say, they eventually do find the identities of the raters, but even more interesting is the fact that they find out who sits on the appeals board. I won't give it away, but when you find out who sits in judgment over all the films being distributed to America, hopefully you'll be as infuriated as I was.

In conclusion all I can say is check out this documentary. It really puts the fire to a group that needs to be ridiculed out of existence. Remember, nobody voted for these people. They're all appointed and they are standing in judgment over film and by extension, a large portion of our culture. In this day and age, the idea of a grading system for movies seems so outdated. I've argued before in favor of a website that could show parents a list containing all objectionable material in a given film and let the parents decide for themselves, but since that would require parents actually, you know, parenting their kids, that idea is very unpopular.

I don't pretend to know all the answers. All I know is that if the free distribution of art is to survive, the MPAA must die.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

★ ★ ★ ½

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1 comments:

Gex said...

Yeah, I saw this film. Certainly does what it's supposed to, make the viewer infuriated at the rating boards who want nothing more than to keep independent filmmaking on the down low, keep big budget hollywood movies on the high up, and for some reason say fuck you to Europe and let violence be more prevalent than sex.

Luckily, nowadays, it does seem like indy films are getting more attention than usual, thanks to many things such as the internet (which is also being threatened, but that's another story).

It's especially nice to see master filmmaker Steve McQueen saying fuck you to hollywood and releasing Shame in theaters despite being given an NC-17 rating. Might want to consider giving that film a review.