As an organization, the Motion Picture Association of America, better known as the MPAA, the governing body that lords over movie ratings, takes a lot of flack for the seemingly random, often almost nonsensical way they rate films and decide who can and can’t see them. People complain a great deal about their practices, and while that’s just dissatisfied grumbling, they could very well find themselves with actual legal issues to attend to as they are the subject of a proposed class action lawsuit, one that, oddly enough, is smoking-related.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the MPAA, as well as the National Association of Theater Owners, were informed on Thursday that there is a class action lawsuit pending relating to the way they rate films when it comes to cigarette smoking. The suit is after an injunction so that movies rated less than R—G, PG, or PG-13—will no longer be allowed to show cigarette smoking or other tobacco use. A judge still has to accept the suit, and decide whether or not this falls under the First Amendment, but it could have seismic implications about the responsibilities of the movie and entertainment industry.
The suit says that, since 2003, major studios like Disney, Sony, Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros. have known that tobacco use in G, PG, and PG-13 films has been a major contributing factor to young people using and becoming addicted to nicotine. They single out films like Iron Man 3, Dumb and Dumber To, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Spectre, and a number others as culprits. It also alleges that MPAA’s ratings practices are "negligent, false, and misleading," and that millions of children have been lured to smoke by what they see in movies and are subsequently at risk for the myriad health concerns associated with tobacco use.
The defendants are expected to invoke a First Amendment, freedom of speech defense. In 2011 the Supreme Court quashed a California law that prevented the sale of violent video games to young people, based on a rating system.
Should this lawsuit ultimately be successful, it seems like it would open a Pandora’s Box of lawsuits against the entertainment industry. There would be the potential for legal action against Hollywood blaming them for gun deaths , drug use, and a variety of other ills and problems. This could have potentially huge ramifications that reverberate through movies, TV, video games, and more. Seriously, sex and sexual situations don’t fly in movies rated PG-13 and below, but the MPAA has no such problem with violence. As long as there’s not too much blood, you can kill as many people as you want.
We’ll have to wait and see how all of this plays out, and it will be interesting to see how the situation develops, but it could very well prove to be a landmark case in what Hollywood is and isn’t responsible for, from a legal standpoint.