Catrine McGregor (CSA casting director, producer, and ReelGuru founder) shares the history and purpose of The Motion Picture Association of America and asks readers if they think the ratings need to be changed.
The Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) film rating system was a replacement of the Hays Code of the 1930s. Jack Valenti, who eventually became president of the MPAA, decided it was needed because films were beginning to show nudity and use foul language. This rating system, he believed, would make filmgoers more responsible while still allowing filmmakers to make the movies they wanted to. It was also intended to prevent government intervention in the film world. The rating system has changed several times since it was first instituted. The names of the ratings as well as the regulations have been in constant flux. So the question is this: Should the ratings change once again? If so, how?
The film rating system was last updated in 1990. Since then, times have changed. It’s a new generation. A generation with its own language and sense of normalcy. Does that mean the rating system should change? Perhaps. Then again, maybe not. What was deemed a PG-13 movie in 1990 and what receives that rating nowadays can be very different because the culture itself has changed. Thus, it can be very difficult to come to a clear conclusion.
Why the ratings shouldn’t be changed:
The ratings are very basic in nature and it is up to the panel of the MPAA to determine what the content is and how it should be dealt with. This is a professional group whose sole job is just this: deciding what is appropriate and inappropriate for youth. The most recent change to the rating systems involved the change of name for X films to what is now known as NC-17 films. The guidelines remained the same; the name simply changed.
The change would only cause confusion and the need for a new marketing campaign to explain the changes. Movie sales are already down, and a negative reaction to the change by the public could affect ticket sales and send the numbers even further down, a risk the film industry can’t afford to take. Besides, why change something that is already working fine?
Why the ratings should be changed:
On the flip side, who is to say that the current rating system is really working? Have you ever sent your pre-teen to the movies with friends and had them coming home talking about adult subject matter in the film they just saw which was deemed PG? It happens and that scary reality, the reality that children now are exposed to far too much adult material, is seen in their ability to see certain content in films deemed appropriate for their age level. Since when were suggestive sexual scenarios allowed in PG movies? Besides the obvious visual cues to inappropriate material for children, there are all the additions of adult humor in hopes that the movies will also appeal to an older demographic making parents more likely to take their children to see a teeny bopper or seemingly pre-teen movie.
The biggest change though is in the language. Yes, slang has become a big part of our cultural make-up and is widely accepted by many people. However, does that mean all slang is okay to use just because not everyone will understand the true meaning? No. I don’t think it’s all right for children to see movies which use explicit slang language and are still rated PG or even PG-13. While the movie raters may not think children understand the language (or perhaps they themselves don’t even know what is really meant) many do. Children are very well educated nowadays and they have access to more material than perhaps they should. Again, another reason to tighten the ratings–to protect youth from themselves.
While my intention is not to take anything away from filmmakers (I am pro-creativity and free media), I do believe the MPAA has a responsibility to the public to change the rating system to include more details on what qualifies movies for each rating. This is especially important for the PG vs. PG-13 ratings as well as the PG-13 versus R ratings. As of right now, few people would be able to list off what separates these categories. The rating system should have very detailed lists of what will be deemed acceptable for each rating level. This will also help filmmakers as they put together their movies and have a rating in mind they’d like to receive. They would in turn know that inserting any of this or that in their film will automatically jump up the scale. Does that mean it will fix everything? No. These ratings are still opinion-based, and what one person finds appropriate another person might find completely unacceptable.
So, should the rating system be changed? In my opinion, yes. Will it be in the near future? There’s no way of knowing. It might help if the public weighed in on the subject and let the MPAA know what they think as well as offer suggestions for changes should the topic ever hit the mainstream media in response to a real need for change. What do you think?
– Catrine McGregor
Catrine has cast well over 400 projects, including films, TV, IMAX, commercials, webseries and video games. She is a member of the prestigious CSA (Casting Society of America). During her forty year career in the film industry, Catrine has worked extensively all over the US as well as Europe and Africa. She prides herself in discovering and developing new talent, and has done so with many people that you see every day in films and on TV.
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Last modified: August 13, 2017