February 16, 2011

Queer Review: This Film Is Not Yet Rated

This Film Is Not Yet Rated
Director: Kirby Dick
Writers: Kirby Dick, Eddie Schmidt, and Matt Patterson

This Film Is Not Yet Rated is a documentary about the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the board responsible for providing movie ratings in the United States. Personally, I would classify Kirby Dick's movie as a "film essay" in that it's not altogether unbiased, Kirby Dick is pursuing a specific thesis here with a remarkable tenacity. That thesis is as follows, that the power wielded by the MPAA is not for the purpose of providing a guide or tool for parents, but rather, the MPAA's real purpose is to act as a tool for the major film studios in order to better control what movies and content can be seen by the larger public.

The major issues that Dick addresses include the secrecy surronding the ratings process and the impact a rating can have on the box office potential of a particular movie. Supporters of the MPAA frequently point out that submitting a movie the MPAA is entirely voluntary and that filmmakers do not have to accept the rating that is assigned. That is, filmmakers can always release a movie as unrated, therefore the MPAA is not an institution in the business of censorship.

The counterpoint to this is that an unrated film has greatly reduced distribution options and many companies, such as Blockbuster, will not carry NC-17 rated films. Furthermore, movies with R ratings typically make less money than those with PG-13.

This may all seem fine and well until one considers the inconsistency (and genereal strangeness) with which the MPAA issues ratings. Of particular interest to the GLBTQIA community is how films with queer content are regularly given higher ratings then straight films with otherwise comparable content. There is one montage devoted to comparing scenes from various movies to drive this point home.

Then there is the whole issue of the MPAA's coming down harder on depictions of sex in movies than on violence. Take for instance Boys Don't Cry which features a graphic sequence of two characters getting murdered in cold blood, an equally graphic rape scene, and one character being stripped naked and humiliated in front of others. However, those scenes were not what lead to the MPAA initially giving it an NC-17 rating. What lead to the NC-17 rating was an extended close up of a female characters face, while she was having an orgasm during a love making scene.

Another issue of particular concern is the favoritism shown towards studio films versus the treatment given to independent productions. Matt Stone, who directed and produced Orgazmo and South Park, discusses how the MPAA was easier to work with in regards to South Park.

This should not come as a surprise as the MPAA is not a neutral entity but is an organization that was set up to be controlled by the major studios. While liberals will undoubtedly be concerned with the MPAA's tendency to censor artists, conservatives should worry about the stifling of competition that the MPAA both creates and encourages.

Furthermore, as Kirby Dick highlights through a couple of extended sequences, the MPAA is one of the most secretive organizations in America, right up there with the CIA. The identities of those actually rating the movies are never made public, nor are the members who are part of the appeals board. As one interviewee points out, a government board might be preferably as not only would it force the entire decision making process to be transparent, but also allow for judicial review. Neither of these things are currently present or available within the MPAA.

In the final analysis, I believe that this film deserves to be seen by anyone who is interested in knowing more about how the MPAA operates and the generally dangerous practice of censorship.

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