Friday, March 04, 2005

A PG-13 Rating for "Gunner Palace" following an appeal to the MPAA

Asking the MPAA to Mind Its Language

A Common Sense View

March 4, 2005
By Nell Minow

In the opening minutes of “Be Cool,” the sequel to 1995’s “Get Shorty,” the main character explains that you can use the f-word only once in a PG-13 movie. Then he uses it. Once. Because while “Get Shorty” was rated R, the sequel is rated PG-13, and the movie is taking a sly poke at the rating system. Indeed the MPAA ratings board will allow one use of the f-word in a PG-13 movie -- but only if it does not refer to sex. Recently, a few movies have managed to sneak the word in twice.

This is an absurd rule with absurd consequences. If we are trying to protect young children from the f-word, why allow it in the movie at all? Why permit it in a violent or threatening context but not a sexual one? And why allow a movie like the PG-13 “Austin Powers” series to sneak under the R-rating radar by substituting fake sound-alikes like “frickin’?” If we care about the language in movies, why does the current PG release “Son of the Mask” include lines like “Hell, no!” and “the crappiest piece of crap in crap-town” or words like “bite me” and “boobs” in Disney’s PG “The Pacifier?”

The first sign that a more thoughtful approach may be developing came with the announcement this week that the MPAA has granted an appeal from the makers of the documentary “Gunner Palace” and changed its R rating to a PG-13. The movie is about soldiers in Iraq and it allows them to tell their own stories. They are frank, astute, open, and direct, and they talk like soldiers, using the frank, astute, open, direct, and often profane language frequently used by soldiers to describe their circumstances and their feelings about them. Under the formulaic -- and arbitrary -- ratings board approach to language, the movie would be assigned an R rating just on the basis of its colorful and often profane vocabulary. Yet many parents would consider this compelling and authentic film far more worthwhile for mature teens than the dumb sex comedies and action picture multiplex fodder from studios that know how to get around the ratings board’s rules.

Michael Tucker, co-director of “Gunner Palace,” said, "As Americans, one way we can support the troops, is by listening to what they have to say. To do this, to honor and respect their experience and sacrifice, we ask the MPAA to constructively work with us to bring the soldiers story to an audience that will include teens who are mature enough to see this film." The MPAA agreed, and, in an unusual step that indicates a more nuanced and substantive approach to these issues in the future, it issued a joint statement with the National Association of Theater Owners to make sure that parents “understand the special context of this rating decision” and advise them that the film has stronger language than they are used to in a PG-13. The next step for parents is to show that they can appreciate this approach. And the next step for the MPAA is to be equally thoughtful when it comes to gratuitous language and stop permitting words like “crap” and “boobs” in movies rated PG.

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