The Motion Picture Association of America or the MPAA is no stranger to controversy. This past few weeks, it became embroiled in another controversy with their rating of the documentary Bully which the producers and distributors hoped would be a PG-13. But instead it was slapped with an R because of six instances of strong profanity (the F-word). The makers had hoped to have the film screened for students and the R-rating would have been prohibitive for some of them. In response, Harvey Weinstein rejected the R-rating and decided to release the film unrated.
This is just the latest in the long line of controversies that have plagued the MPAA. When it was first formed in the late 1960's, it was a blessing because it abolished the need for a production code and censorship. It was self-governing body that rates and classifies films according to age appropriateness as a guide for parents. While I do agree that there needs to be some sort of classification system for films and the system worked for a while, the MPAA has since devolved into borderline censorship, a stubborn stickler for outdated rules and committing galling and obvious double-standards.
According to the film This Film Is Not Yet Rated (highly recommended), a documentary film exposing the bureaucracy and the corrupt system of the MPAA, the aforementioned double-standards include being far more lenient towards violence than they are towards sexuality, nudity and language and more lenient towards studio films than towards independent films. A very violent studio picture (like say a James Bond movie) can get a PG-13 as long as little to no blood is seen while an independent drama with just a little too much F-words is automatically an R. It's also easier for a bloody and gory horror film like say Hostel to get an R-rating than for a racy, daring, sexually charged picture like say Shame which got an NC-17. I find it very hilarious that The King's Speech, a film that was rated R solely because of language has the same rating as Hostel II, a film where a woman graphically cuts off a man's penis and feeds it to the dogs. That's just a few examples. There are many, many more I can cite here.
Also another problem is the NC-17 rating. The rating calls for no children below 17 is allowed to see the film. Technically speaking, I have nothing against this rating. There are films out there that most minors should not be allowed to see because of its themes or content and I think filmmakers should have the freedom to tackle any subject matter they wish. However, the main problem of this is that a lot of movie theaters refuse to play NC-17-rated movies in their cinemas and network TV bans advertising of NC-17 rated movies on their broadcasts so the rating gravely limits the amount of audience the film can reach which is already limited enough by its rating as it is. So NC-17 is tantamount to censorship. Victims of these are of course independent films which often have limited budgets and are forced to either edit their films or make do with lower profits.
Hopefully, this latest controversy will reform and revamp the MPAA. Perhaps change its ratings systems or adjust their guidelines to keep up with changing times.