Mar 31, 2012

The MPAA: Bully of Film Makers

The Motion Picture Association of America, or MPAA, is the national film ratings agency that reviews films and applies the ratings to them, be it G, PG, PG-13, R or NC-17 (which used to be XXX).

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It is also a group that many filmmakers hate.

It is the reason why you see the above screen in theaters at every movie you go to. Their review decisions are made in secret, infuriating film makers, who are given little to no information about why a film has been given a particular rating. The appeals process allows no documentation or recordings, and produces no written judgments, and is a system in which the deck is stacked against the filmmakers. 

This is a problem, because films that are released unrated, or worse, with an NC-17 rating, are often not shown in the big movie theater chains. While the MPAA claims its rating system is voluntary, the reality is that it is a form of censorship, because unrated films are seen by far fewer people. It is a system that thrives on secrecy and has been resistant to change.

The most recent example is the film Bully, from Miramax, about the trauma of school bullying. The MPAA gave it an NC-17 rating for some offensive language (the kind heard in schools across the country) and refused to review its decision. As a result, Miramax is going to release the film unrated, even though that will lower the amount of theaters in which it can be seen.

This video covers the campaign to pressure the MPAA to back down on its arbitrary R-rating.

Turning The Spotlight On The MPAA

In the documentary This Film Is Not Yet RatedAcademy Award-nominated director Kirby Dick  puts the powerful MPAA under the microscope for inspection, looking at stateside cinema's most notorious non-censoring censors. 

Disturbed by the huge amount of power that the MPAA ratings board wields, the filmmaker seeks out the true identities of the anonymous raters who control what films make it to the multiplex (and which ones don't), hiring a private investigator to stake out MPAA headquarters.

Along the way, Dick speaks with numerous filmmakers whose careers have been negatively affected by the seemingly random judgments of the MPAA.

This is a fascinating documentary and well worth watching (be aware there are snippets of nudity and some coarse language, necessary to examine the issues covered in the film)

Predictably, the film was given an NC-17 rating by the MPAA, and Dick describes the unfair, arbitrary nature of the appeals process. 

The MPAA was also caught red handed making copies of the film, something they go after others for, but the MPAA justified its hypocracy  by claiming it was acting to protect its members (story about this HERE).  Apparently the same rules they so zealously advocate for do not apply to them.

The bottom line is the fact that the MPAA has an enormous amount of control over what movies the public is allowed to see, and there are movies that do not get made or released at all because of this system, something that damages the freedom of culture that is supposed to be a hallmark of our society.

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