I’ve never quite understood the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) rating system. Made up of parents that are outside of the film industry, in theory with no bias, the MPAA follows a strict rubric on establishing a film’s rating. Based on their rubric and factoring in the context surrounding a film, the MPAA should easily distinguish between films that are lewd for the sake of being lewd and films that hold a pertinent social value despite their subject matter. As noted on their website, the MPAA’s goal is to inform parents about the content found in films. Honestly, the members of the MPAA don’t seem to know what they’re doing. Recently, with the release of Steve McQueen’s Shame, a film about the downfalls of sex addiction, the MPAA came under fire for giving the film an NC-17 rating. With the NC-17 rating being the kiss of death for most films, Shame didn’t get nearly as wide as an audience it deserved. Being branded as an NC-17 movie all but made Shame a leper in the film landscape. Admittedly, there was a great deal of nudity (frontal male and female) in Shame, but none of it was titillating. It served a thematic purpose to further examine sex addiction and the isolation it can bring to a person’s life.
Without the raw, desperate sex, Shame’s poignancy would be limp. By aggressively showing the explicit, debilitating nature of addiction, Shame convincingly shows us one man’s insatiable hunger for sex. The MPAA claims to consider context in their ratings, but if they would’ve done so, Shame would be a bonafide rated R film. But Shame isn’t the film that inspired this post. That distinction belongs to Bully (aka The Bully Project), a documentary that attempts to capture the magnitude of bullying. Like most documentaries of this ilk, Bully addresses a plethora of complicated questions. Emanating from the material is an unflinching look at an issue becoming more and more prevalent in society. It becomes even more notable when suicide becomes a way out for those who are left in the social divide. In spite of the film’s potential for educating our nation’s youth, and being a learning block for the adults that walk the halls of schools, Bully has been egregiously slapped with an R rating. What’s the issue? By issuing Bully an R rating, the MPAA has all but made it impossible for the film to be shown at schools. So much for attacking the target audience.
Through their silly rating, the MPAA is stunting the growth of a nation. Making matters worse is the farcical reasoning behind the rating: too many f-bombs are present within the film. Because of the film’s use of the “F” word, Bully becomes an abominable film. How does an everyday word, one prominently found in teen life, become the crux of the rating? Saying the word apparently has damaging consequences, but aliens feasting on horses and destroying the Earth is just fine for a PG-13 rating! Give me a break. There are more damaging images in Cowboys and Aliens, a film that features a high body count and a vibrant red mist that ensures we know the difference between a flesh wound and death, than in a film like Bully. This wouldn’t be the first time that the no-no word has placed films in questionable rating zones. For example, the quaint Irish film Once is also rated R. Featuring zero sex, no violence and a wholesome story about two strangers becoming friends, if not lovers, Once isn’t a volatile film. Oh, except it used the “F” word more than once. OH MY GOD! SOMEONE ALERT THE PRESIDENT! OUR CHILDREN AREN’T SAFE FROM THE EVILS OF A WORD!
Context wasn’t taken into consideration, and because of that, Once will be seen as a restricted film despite its universal appeal. It’s silly to think that sex, something inherent within all of us, has been treated like an unwanted disease in this country. Moreover, it’s a shame that the use of one word would dictate the appropriateness of a film. The context is there, but the MPAA can’t get past itself and its little rubric. It amazes me how the Saw series, which features graphic violence hinging on decapitation and grotesque physical mutilation, would be on the same rating level as Bully, a film that attempts to circumvent emotional degradation and potential physical harm. By keeping Bully as an R rated film, the MPAA is exclaiming that it’s on par with a film that gleefully promotes violence. What a disgusting appropriation. As it currently stands, Harvey Weinstein, Bully’s producer, is vehemently fighting the MPAA and their hackneyed rating. The battle has found the film on the losing side, but with a significant message and staunch support across the country, the film is finding life amidst the rating controversy. Regardless of how much publicity the film gets from this, it invariably needs a rating that not only signifies the context of its content, but also a rating that allows teens and adults access to this damning material.