If you’ve been to the theater lately, you’ve probably noticed what most of the money-makers have in common. Whether fighting alien cyborgs from outer space or just ourselves, it’s pretty hard to deny that movies today are violent. At the end of the day, one has to wonder when it became acceptable for Katniss and crew to try and kill each other for a PG-13 rating, while others are stuck fighting the review board for what seems like a lot less.
I’m not knocking a film like The Hunger Games. I believe it’s a fantastic tale with an admirably strong female lead. But it did make me ponder, as I watched pre-teens getting brutally slaughtered, whether the MPAA’s current methods aren’t a bit skewed. There’s been a lot of chatter lately about the MPAA and the rating system due in large part to Lee Hirsch’s documentary Bully.
From the get go, it has been championed by audiences for its blunt take on bullying in schools and the tragedies caused by it. Sounds pretty good right? We are presented with a documentary with a clear, current message that can be screened for those most likely to be affected; so wherein lay the problem?
You Can’t Say That on Television
Well, with Bully, the epic battle that ensued all came down to a few choice words. When the MPAA issued Bully with an R rating for language (which, having seen the film, is limited to a few very short scenes), producer Harvey Weinstein immediately put on his gloves and entered the ring (cue the theme song from Rocky here). Weinstein and celebrities came out of the wood work to publicly condemn the MPAA for its rating, essentially keeping it from the young audience that could gain the most from it.
At the same time, an inspiring individual by the name of Katy Butler, a high school student who had herself been bullied, started a petition to get the rating changed, eventually amassing over 200,000 signatures to be hand-delivered to the ratings board itself.
PG-13 or Bust!
With chaos ensuing, including Weinstein threatening to release the film unrated rather than cave to the MPAA’s demands of editing the doc, a compromise was finally reached where the more explicit scene was slightly edited to appease the critics without cutting the pivotal scene. And a PG-13 was earned!
While I guess you could look at this as a “win/win,” I tend to think of it as the calm before the storm. This is not the first time the rating system has come under fire as being outdated and biased (last year’s The King’s Speech was also affected), and I’m certain it won’t be the last. With more and more films getting away with violence, and others getting ensnared for language and sexuality, I have to wonder where one draws the line and who made up that line anyway?
For more information about the ongoing debate, check out Kirby Dick’s 2006 documentary, This Film Is Not Yet Rated.