The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) ratings system is used to determine the suitability of mainstream films for American audiences. Begun in 1968 and revised repeatedly throughout the years, the MPAA movie ratings have been continuously controversial with the filmmaking community and general public. Many believe that the ratings system is skewed to particular belief systems, rendering them a potentially obsolete guide for modern audiences.
Currently, the ratings system comprises five categories, generally broken up by age. “G” ratings are suitable for general audiences, and most frequently are given to movies made for children. “PG” ratings suggest that some material may not be appropriate for young children and should be watched with parental guidance. “PG-13” ratings claim that the film content is unsuitable for those under 13, while “R” rated films are considered inappropriate for those under 17. “NC-17” ratings are rare for widely-released films, and instruct that no one under 17 is permitted to attend the film at a theater.
Despite misconceptions, these movie ratings are not laws, being constitutionally unsound. Many theaters choose to enforce MPAA ratings under their “right to refuse service” protections, and may require valid ID before admitting patrons to R or NC-17 rated films. While some consider this a violation of First Amendment rights, theaters are within their legal rights to enforce the MPAA ratings requirements.
The ratings are determined by the amount of questionable content in a film, including foul language, violence, and depictions of sex, drug paraphernalia and alcohol or drug abuse. While the exact rules are fluid and have never been publicly released by the MPAA, certain guidelines do exist that may push a film from one category to another. This refusal to announce exact guidelines has lead to considerable controversy, as many claim the decisions are somewhat arbitrary and not accountable to a published standard.
Some believe that the ratings are skewed to give harsher ratings to films that portray sex. The NC-17 rating is used almost exclusively for films that contain graphic sexual scenes, whereas extremely violent films are more often given an R rating. Film critic Roger Ebert is notable for his criticism of the system, and many others against the MPAA movie ratings system suggest that the organization tries to enforce an outdated attitude about sex in films. The issue is an extremely important subject for many filmmakers, as an NC-17 rated film will almost never be shown in mainstream theaters, thereby seriously limiting the opportunity to return a profit.
The movie ratings system in America is considered by many to be severely flawed, and based on guidelines that are obsolete to a 21st century audience. Resolutions for the concerns are not forthcoming however, as most agree that a ratings system is extremely beneficial to parents in determining what films their children may see. While the movie ratings system has been amended repeatedly throughout the years, the controversy continues to rage; what some believe is a valuable tool in choosing appropriate films is to others thinly disguised censorship of film.