Rating or Censoring?

Lindsay Adams

Rated R for pervasive language in a film not backed by a big Hollywood name, gratuitous violence in an independent film, homosexual sexuality/nudity and smoking. These are all different reasons the MPAA has for branding a film with harsh rating.

 The MPAA is known for making bizarre demands such as forcing Martin Scorsese to de-saturate the color of blood in “Taxi Driver” to get an R rating.

 The MPAA has its own viewpoint and agenda that seeps into its film ratings in insidious ways.

 Some of these biases become readily apparent when looking at different ratings received by films.


When the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, made the independent film “Orgazmo,” they were branded with an NC-17 rating for overall sexual content. When Parker and Stone asked the MPAA what they should cut, the MPAA told them that they couldn’t tell that what needed to be cut or they would become a censorship organization.

Stone and Parker couldn’t afford to re-edit the movie in hopes of removing the right offensive material, and so instead released it with the NC-17 rating.

 However, once they were working with the big studio Paramount to make the “South Park” film, the MPAA’s tune changed. The South Park film was given a NC-17 rating at first as well, but when asked what needed to be cut to merit an R rating, the MPAA was incredibly specific about the words that needed to be cut and even the length that needed to be cut off certain frames.

 The MPAA seems to let content slide when it comes to rating the films of major studios, which is foreseeable considering that its members are comprised of executive of the six major studios, Disney, Paramount, Sony, Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros. The MPAA is a self-regulated studio puppet.

 Big name directors, who are backed by large studio, have the power to play with the system. Steven Spielberg talked the MPAA board into changing Poltergeist from an R to a PG without a cutting a single frame of the movie, before the creation of the PG-13 rating.

 In general, films with homosexual content are rated more harshly than those with heterosexual content and male sexuality is more acceptable than female sexuality to the MPAA board.

Kimberly Peirce had to cut shots from a love scene between a female and a transsexual in Boys Don’t Cry to get an R, when previously rated an NC-17.  What didn’t have to be edited down were the disturbing and graphic beatings and rape of the transexual by two men.

 Whether or not those are the prevalent cultural and social norms in our country, the MPAA is merely validating an unfair double-standard.

 If this system did do what it pretends to do, that is, help parents make educated decisions about what their children should see, then I could understand even if not agree with the people who argue to let the biased and bigoted system slide, but this system isn’t helpful to parents. 

The sentence-long descriptor under each MPAA rating doesn’t really encapsulate what gave the film the rating it did. With no clear information, how is the audience supposed to make an informed decision?

The MPAA’s NC-17 rating is more than just a suggestion or guideline for a parent. No one under 17 is allowed into a NC-17 film even in the company and with the express permission of their parents. The MPAA is deciding that it knows better than parents and has the right to make that parenting decision for them.

 Created to distinguish between explicit art house films and pornographic content, it has become the black sheep of the ratings system.

 It quickly received the stigma that ws previously attached to X-rated films, and NC-17 films are barely marketable.

 The ratings system, especially the R and NC-17 ratings, merely create a false sense of security for parents, who think that this is somehow protecting their kinds, when pornographic material is just a click or text message away.

 Instead of a false sense of security, moviegoers need a rating system with transparency that informs, rather than dictates.