A year ago at Sundance, Kirby Dick made noise with his documentary "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," which took direct aim at the Motion Picture Assn. of America's ratings system for being shrouded in secrecy and, hence, lacking accountability.
At the time, (MPAA President Dan) Glickman had already been meeting with and gathering input from various stakeholders in the ratings system – including filmmakers, guilds, parents' groups and Washington lawmakers – but Dick's film had an impact.
"This Film is Not Yet Rated" gave the public a rare look inside the MPAA, voicing many concerns regarding the MPAA's secretive ratings process and revealing how filmmakers can be pressured to self-censor in order to achieve a more lenient rating.
While the industry-coordinated ratings process is far preferable to government censorship of film, NCAC supports efforts to arrive at a more transparent and fair process for film ratings. Some of the steps described in Variety's article are encouraging, such as the new commitment to post rules on the MPAA Web site and to allow filmmakers who protest their film's designated rating to cite other films as precedent in their formal appeals.
Even so, the reforms come up short in many meaningful ways, and include what appears to be a vague but harsh additional designation that, we fear, could infringe upon the creative expression of filmmakers and the free choices of moviegoers.
Kirby Dick has a passionate critique of the proposed changes in the L.A. Times entitled "Rated R for Ridiculous." With special emphasis, he calls attention to the issue of discrimination in ratings deliberations:
The MPAA should be called on to publicly state that no film shall be rated more restrictively on the basis of the race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation of its characters.
Censorship of films with sexual content actually serves the MPAA's political interests in Washington. One of the MPAA's primary objectives is lobbying Congress to pass laws favorable to the film studios. By harshly rating films with sexual content, the MPAA has curried favor with conservatives in Congress who have rewarded them by passing a number of very onerous intellectual property laws that have added billions of dollars to film studios' coffers while greatly restricting the development of new art forms and new technologies.
Keep an eye on this page for updates on the ratings reforms as they are debated and brought into effect. In the meantime, please consult the resources provided below …
"This Film is Not Yet Rated" is featured this month by Ironweed Films , a subscription-based film service for socially-conscious independent films. Each month, Ironweed highlights non-profit organizations whose work relates to the subject of the film it has selected. This month, NCAC is the featured organization, and information about our activities will be included with copies of "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" mailed to subscribers. We're grateful to Ironweed for its recognition of our work in the area of arts advocacy and free expression.