Movies Must Play Unfair Ratings Game
April 18, 2012
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The Hunger Games continues to break box office records as it earned hundreds of millions of dollars in just a few short weeks. Yet, if not for Lionsgate making the conscious choice to tone down the original book’s violence of teens killing teens, the movie probably wouldn’t have raked in such a lucrative profit. Otherwise, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) would have instantly slapped the movie with an R-rating, forcing it to kiss a majority of its target audience (12-20) goodbye.
While I don’t criticize this decision, it brings to light the choices producers must make when filming and marketing a movie regarding its rating. The MPAA’s current ratings board frequently comes under fire for its verdicts on movies like Titanic, Brokeback Mountain, and most recently, Bully.
This new documentary was originally issued an R-rating solely because it contained multiple instances of inappropriate language. The movie is honest, albeit brutally so, casting an unflinching eye on real, tormented kids and the h-e-double-hockey-sticks they go through in middle and high school. The harsh rating would have prevented its target audience from hearing its profound and inspiring message, simply because a few F-bombs were realistically dropped. Thankfully, the board finally compromised last week, replacing the rating with a fair PG-13. However, this quasi-surrender came only after months of sustained and outraged protests from the movie’s distributor, the Weinstein Company, which garnered support from dozens of celebrities, including Johnny Depp and Katy Perry. An online petition, which urged the MPAA to lower its rating, even garnered over half a million signatures. Yet, it was only when TWC resubmitted a newly edited and censored version of the movie that it got the concession.
While it may have been a happy ending for both parties (Bully even got some great press over this controversy), the fact that quarrels such as this still happen in the first place is disappointing and frustrating. The MPAA system has drifted from its purpose of advising parents on movies, relying on arbitrary and antiquated measures of what is and is not appropriate for today’s generation. The board must update its system to prevent these silly controversies. It needs to face the fact that teens are already exposed to much of what they attempt to shield us from. People only need to wait a few months and watch the DVD to see the movie, so there is no longer a point of continuing our obsolete system, which bans kids from certain movies without parental accompaniment.
Moreover, the MPAA rating system has been plagued by inconsistency and political influences. Films with nudity and sex are typically treated harsher than those with extreme violence. Movies depicting homosexuality are regarded even more severely, causing many to criticize it for having conservative bias rather than a more universal ethical code. But, then again, what is the universal ethical code these days?
Alas, the fact remains that the system has become practically irrelevant. A fictional movie depicting brutal physical torture of teens at the hands of their peers is considered less traumatic than a hard-hitting doc depicting brutal verbal torture of teens at the hands of their peers. Though both managed to win the ratings game in the end; the fact that it’s a game in the first place is inherently wrong.