Wanted: Unbiased Movie Ratings with People in Mind


The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) seems to show a particular bias towards sex rather than violence, especially when considering the "R" and "NC-17" ratings for a film. The smallest sexual reference can skyrocket ratings even over the goriest of films, making for an unfair and morally confused ratings system. Ratings are based on the personal opinions of those employed to give them which forces audience members to become restricted to viewing what all they may wish to; however, the opinion of the content of a film and how acceptable it may be to a viewer should actually be subject to each individual.

The MPAA is the master of the film industry. Whenever a movie is completed it can be submitted to be judged by a panel to be given a rating that will accompany its distribution. Unbeknownst to many outside of the industry the rating system is completely voluntary and does not have to be used by filmmakers. However, most chain cinemas will not host a film that is not rated officially by the MPAA, as the rating is supposed to be a helpful instrument to attract the proper audience. The most controversial ratings for film are the "R" (Restricted, Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult 17 or older) and "NC-17" (No one 17 and under is admitted) which was previously known as "X" under the same terms. The subtle yet heavy difference between the two ratings are: Any individual who is under 17 years of age can still see an "R" rated film if they have an adult with them, whereas "NC-17" permits only those who are 18 or older to view the film without exception. A large problem that resorts between the two ratings for filmmakers and their films is the fact that popular cinema chains will not host films with the heavy "NC-17" rating as it has been deemed "Box Office Poison" since the wide distribution of the first film rated as such, "Showgirls," which performed poorly at ticket sales. "R" ratings are much more accessible to audiences, advertised as films that are heavy in violent and/or sexual content but none to a "pornographic" degree. Most films, after being rated by the MPAA, are resubmitted with edits made to achieve a lower rating of "R" for wider distribution and support from companies.

The trouble with the ratings system is the moral conflict that has been so ever evident in the past 20 years. The MPAA panel of judges is supposed to be made up of, according to the previous CEO Dan Glickman, "average" parents with children between the ages of five and seven years old (the ages in which the movie ratings apply most). The truth is that members of this panel have been rating for up to 15 years and have children way into their 30's and beyond. The films are reviewed by the personal opinion of each individual and then voted on for an overall rating. There is no "raters training" or set of rules or guidelines that these individuals are rating films off of. They are purely subject to personal opinion. The personal opinion of these "average parents" is just that, an opinion, and is making an unfair throw at restricting certain audiences from being able to view the films that they wish to.

These opinions also seem to be biased towards specific content in film as well. When it comes between violence and sex the latter is always judged more harshly than the former. Violence seems to become more and more expectable in society and sex seems to become more and more of a secretive, unmentionable thing. Society is making violence something that is completely normal and "okay" whereas sex, including anything from dialogue to the actual act of intercourse, is unnatural and almost "evil." Our children should be educated about sex and how to protect themselves and make smart decisions, but it doesn't seem right to hide it away and let something that is truly unacceptable (i.e. violent acts) become less important. Parents are more likely to bring their children to "R" rated films termed as "torture porn" like the ever successful "SAW" franchise and Eli Roth's "Hostel," where the very point is showing gratuitous amounts of violence and death, rather than a romantic comedy that contains sexual content yet is rated "PG-13." For whatever reason guardian's feel comfortable explaining the gory details of an individual being cut into pieces as bodily organs and juices spill across the screen; however, any mention of a word such as "sex" or "masturbation" is a curse word that bears gut wrenching emotions that are deemed unacceptable topics of conversation.

This feels entirely backward. A parent or guardian should be able to sit with a child and watch a film which contains dialogue or imagery of a sexual content and be comfortable enough to explain and converse with their child about the material that is being displayed. It isn't the filmmaker's job to educate and protect one's children, it's their job to simply tell a story. The way in which the current rating system has been established is so that parents or guardians accompany their children to these films in order to be there and talk about or explain what their child is seeing. Parents should be able to tell their kids about love, relationships, and most of all sex, along with how it's not okay to shoot others or cause harm, even in acts of revenge etc.

Film ratings are supposed to be an instrument that allows audiences to see the overall level of content in a film and judge whether they wish to view the film or not. The level of violence or sex between "R" and "NC-17" films are subject to the personal opinion of the raters whereas the opinion should, in the end, be up to the audience. This creates a rating system that is unreliable and unfair. It's not right to assume that a 15-year-old is not mature enough to handle the content of a film given a higher rating, as they probably have viewed many films similar to (if not worse than) the one they are attempting to see. The rating system is supposed to be designed to help and accommodate those who wish to see movies in their own comfort and/or moral level. Unfortunately, especially when considering those films that have content deemed worthy of "R" or "NC-17" ratings, there's no universal agreement on where the line is officially drawn for what belongs in each rating.

For a rating system that truly works there cannot be judgments made by a small amount of hired individuals who find it their employment to do so. The only way to properly "rate" a film is to view and record the content that is present, displaying the specifics of the content rather than the general idea of the content and who it may be acceptable for. For all who wish to view a film, it becomes much easier to judge whether a particular film is "appropriate" or not when they can see the level of violence, sex, language, and so on for themselves and judge based on their personal opinions.

Similar to the popular website www.KidsInMind.com films should be reviewed in detail on what is going to be seen and heard when an individual goes to the theater. Creating a simple level scale from 0 to 10 (lowest to highest) in categories such as "Sex/Nudity," "Violence/Gore," "Language," "Substance Use," and so on will give a better reading for parents and children alike to make their decisions. There are no restrictions held on age because of what a few hired "average parents" feel the maturity level of a film is, rather families can choose to view a film or not based on their own standards. The rating system is ultimately supposed to be used as a tool, yet adults aren't using it to its intended purpose. With a detail oriented rating, a breakdown of the film can be laid out online so anyone who cares to research a film can do so. For example, a rating system that terms a film "7/10/5/9" (for example, based on aforementioned categories) gives much more insight and information than a rating that says, "Rated R for violence and some sexual content." The MPAA rating doesn't give enough detail for anyone to make a proper decision on whether or not a film has content that is questionable or not for any particular person. It closes out many people who decide that a certain rating is entirely off limits, it restricts the integrity of many filmmakers as they re-edit their works to receive lower or "more acceptable" ratings, and simply enough there's just not a universal maturity or moral value level for all filmgoers.

The MPAA has no set of rules or guidelines to help create a rating system that actually works in favor of the audience and doesn't hurt filmmakers in distributing their films. High ratings are slow to ticket sales and normally harm the number of eyes that are permitted to see what can be an entertaining or thought-provoking piece of art. A level scale rating system doesn't harm filmmakers and gives much more room for an array of film's to be seen that usually wouldn't see the light of day. A scale system similar to the one mentioned delivers a strong and reliable amount of information that lets people adequately choose whether or not a film is appropriate or acceptable enough to be seen based on their own maturity or moral levels. There needs to be a system that doesn't cause restrictions based on a few people's opinions, one which allows accurate and quality information to be shared which rightfully explains the content of a film so that audiences can make proper decisions on their viewing pleasures.

To learn more about the MPAA check out the official website at http://www.mpaa.org/.

To learn more about why the MPAA doesn't work watch the informative and entertaining documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated by Kirby Dick.