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Back in 2006, the Motion Picture Association Of America’s Review Board was publicly unmasked for the first time thanks to the fascinating documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated. The move caused a minor scandal at the time, as some felt it was an invasion of privacy, but now, two of the Board’s longtime members have decided to start their own company and unmask themselves. Needless to say, they have a whole lot of knowledge to share with potential clients, specifically why the MPAA is so much softer on violence than sex.
The disparity between what is allowed when it comes to physical violence and what is allowed when it comes to sex has long been a favorite talking point of the MPAA’s biggest critics. Why is it OK for a 13-year-old to watch someone get shot in the head but not see a pair of breasts? Well, it turns out that, along with just about everything else about the hyper-secretive organization, comes to down public opinion polls.
Here’s what former MPAA Board Member Howard Fridkin had to say to Indie Wire…
"The MPAA has knowledge of certain polls that represent parents' feelings about drugs, sexuality and language. And for some reason, they have become much more sensitive about those issues over, at least, the number of years Barry and I have been there. So, they probably do lean more to the conservative side if there's a questionable scene - whether it's a PG-13 or an R. So, sometimes, they err on the side of caution and go with the R."
When The MPAA first started rating movies, it was meant to save filmmakers from the old Production Code. It was a way to inform parents while letting filmmakers do (pretty much) whatever they wanted artistically. Unfortunately, over the years, the ratings system has become its own production code, with filmmakers catering finished products specifically to fall on the right side of the barometer. Maybe that means only using one "fuck". Maybe that means using a little less blood. Regardless, the system is being used the opposite way of how it was intended. Instead of the rating informing parents and not affecting filmmakers, it’s informing filmmakers of how they need to edit their products.
It makes some sense that the MPAA would be relying at least somewhat on public opinion to decide where the line is, but unfortunately, public opinion polls are very reactionary. Perhaps more importantly, they vary wildly depending on how the questions are actually phrased.