Former senator Chris Dodd, chairman of the MPAA, said at CinemaCon that the current American ratings system should be “far more transparent,” surprising movie fans with the news that he actually has some clue as to why the organization is so reviled.
The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) is the group in charge of the current rating system, which includes such classifications such as G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17. Most major theaters will refuse to screen movies without a rating or with an NC-17, which has resulted in countless battles over the years with filmmakers desperate to allow their work to reach wide audiences without compromising their artistic vision.
Recently, there was a public skirmish over the rating of Bully, a documentary about teen bullying. The Weinstein Company feuded with the MPAA over the film’s R rating, which it received for profanity. Eventually, the film was slightly edited and it received a PG-13, but not before Weinstein Company received an enormous amount of free publicity as a result of the fight.
The 2006 documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated took on the MPAA, accusing the organization of idiotic standards when it came to rating films based on sex and violence.
For an example of the organization’s general derangement, compare NC-17 rated sex addiction drama Shame and the sleazy, hyper-exploitative, ultra-violent R rated Piranha 3D. The former is a sober portrait of a man broken by sex addiction, the latter a pandering, deliberately vile mess. Shame has sex but no violence, while Piranha 3D features constant sex and grotesque violence. The system often seems designed to ironically dole out punishment to mature works and to award the juvenile. Large studios are generally content with the system as long as their big budget films can get away with a PG-13 regardless of the content.
The ratings process itself is closed, meaning that filmmakers are often left with vague notes as to why their work receives whatever score that it does, or why one film can get away with content that others can’t.
Despite admitting to the need for more transparency, Dodd did defend the system as one that “works well.” Lately, the MPAA has been actively lobbying for laws designed to reduce copyright infringement.