The Morality of MPAA Film Ratings

One of the most commonly seen forms of regulation via content and distribution is the rating systems used in film. Though other media such as video games and television use a similar system, I will focus on what is seen and not seen in movies due to this regulation.

Ratings for films are devised by the Motion Picture Association of America, founded as the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America in 1922. This system ranks the “suitability of films’ themes and content for certain audiences,” (Wikipedia).

The ratings are briefly outlined as such (from MPAA Website)

  • General Audience (G): No content that is deemed offensive including themes, violence, nudity, etc.
  • Parental Guidance Suggested (PG): Some content may be unsuitable for children, as it may include some profanity, violence, or nudity.
  • Parents Strongly Cautioned (PG-13): Parents are strongly cautioned to deem if this content is suitable for their children under the age of 13. It may include drugs, or a higher level of profanity, mature themes, violence, or nudity than a PG-rated movie.
  • Restricted (R): Children under the age of 17 must accompany these films with an adult. These often feature heavily mature content.
  • No One 17 and Under Admitted (NC-17): Content is only appropriate for adult audiences due to intensely mature features of the film. Not necessarily pornographic or obscene.

Six major film studios make up the MPAA including Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Paramount Pictures Corporation; Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.; Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Universal City Studios LLC; and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. The issues presented by these large corporations being members of the MPAA is the bias given when rating these films. It would seem that the larger corporations involved with the MPAA would benefit from this system, where the independent films are restrained by these ratings.  If smaller independent films are produced, is it possible that they are either unrated or rated unfairly so as not to take away from possible screen time for films from these major production companies? If, say, an unbiased third party were to do these ratings, it is possible that they would be rated on a more accurate scale?

For example, The Wolf of Wall Street, an extremely mature movie with a large amount of nudity and sexuality, was rated as ‘R’, rather than NC-17. It dances along this very fine line, but because it was produced Paramount Pictures, it is possible that the MPAA rating was lower to promote a larger audience to view the film in theaters.

Another issue is the morality of film ratings in general. Who is to say that the contents of a PG-13 would be offensive to a parent with very liberal ideals, versus an extremely religious parent who is offended by profanity and nudity of any kind. These ratings, therefore, are seemingly an inaccurate judge of the films of today’s society. They do not fully represent the whole of the population.

I believe that by implementing a non-biased party with representatives from extreme levels of content sensitivity, the rating system could be vastly improved to reflect the feelings of more Americans, and would also lose the bias of a large conglomerate-driven organization.

Sources
MPAA Website
Wikipedia

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