The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is a group of people who decide on the age certifications given to films released in the US. The group has a lot of power with regards to how films are eventually presented to the public, and they have the ability to recommend cuts made to films in order to lower or raise the age range that can view a film. It is a non-profit trade organization, and the identity of the members involved is kept secret. The purpose of the group is not only film classification, but also copyright protection and criminal law, and its members have links to the seven major American film studios.
The film classification process used by the MPAA is intended to be voluntary, which means that it will recommend cuts made to a film if the content is graphically sexual or violent. The filmmaker is not required to make these cuts, but the film's certification will reflect the content of the film. Many films have been cut in order to avoid an NC-17 rating, a rating that means that no person under the age of 17 can see the film in theaters. Most filmmakers do not want this rating, as it lowers the amount of people who can view the film. In terms of business over art, business often dictates that cuts to a film be made in order to achieve a lower rating.
The organization really began in 1922, when Will H. Hays was appointed president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. In 1930, he became responsible for the Motion Picture Production Code, a collection of movie censorship guidelines. Eric Johnston became president in 1945, and the institution's name was changed to the MPAA.
The MPAA has come under heavy criticism over the years, an more so with the release of the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated in 2006. The film takes an in-depth look at the secretive workings of the group, and director Kirby Dick even went as far as to hire private detectives to follow its members.
One report of MPAA rules gone awry regards film advance screenings. At a press screening of the film Derailed in 2005, members of the public were subjected to body searches. Those who refused had their mobile phones confiscated and were subjected to staff observation throughout the film screening. The fear of illegal copies of the film being made led to these checks.
Critics of the organization have said that the group cannot be unbiased while working with the major film studios. The monopoly these studios hold is said to be detrimental to the smaller independent filmmaker. Film critics have called for an entirely new process of film rating. At present, there seem to be no plans for this, and the MPAA continues to be a very powerful force in the film industry.