The MPAA’s Flawed System
The Motion Picture Association of American film rating system goes something like this:
G: General Audience. Essentially, Disney movies.
PG: Parental Guidance. The “clean” version.
PG-13 : Parental Guidance for kids under 13 years old. The “explicit” version.
R : Restricted for kids/teens under the age of 17 years old without an adult. There’s probably some blood, maybe a sexual scene, and certainly a lot of profanity.
NC-17: ADULTS ONLY. There’s sex.
The logic behind the MPAA rating system for movies is strange and inconsistent. There are some movies that have been rated R, but should have been PG-13 and vice versa.
For instance, Austin Powers: The Spy who Shagged Me was given a PG-13 rating despite the overt sexual themes and suggestions. Then, you have movies like Breakfast Club and The King’s Speech that were rated R. The King’s Speech was rated R by the MPAA because of profanity, specifically the scene where Colin Firth is saying the F-word over and over, but besides that, the movie is a wonderful and inspirational historical adaptation. To combat the rating for The King’s Speech, the former Weinstein Company, released a PG-13 version in which the curses were muted, and reduced the number of F-bombs and other “inappropriate language” to make it more accessible.
According to their website, the MPAA determines their ratings through the Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA), “a board comprised of an independent group of parents.” The MPAA, which was a replacement for the once stricter Hays Code, is only concerned with informing parents of whether or not a film is safe for a family viewing or not—they aren’t really concerned about the movie and the damage a rating can do to its accessibility. However, some advisors from the MPAA have ventured off to become consultants of their own in order to help filmmakers maneuver the unusual rating system.
Recently, Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade was stamped as rated R—much to distributors A24 and director Bo Burnham’s discontent. MPAA rated Eighth Grade as R because of profanity and sexual themes. So, a couple of F-bombs (four at most) were thrown around and some sexually suggestive themes. However, they were all done innocently from the perspective of a curious and pure 13-year-old girl going through puberty and transitioning into high school where these things are the everyday norm.
In an attempt to get teens to see the movie without an adult, Bo Burnham and A24 have partnered with select theatres across the United States to offer a free screening of Eighth Grade with a “no rating” in order to make it even more accessible to teens.
The movie’s “mature theme” has talking points every eighth grader may be having or even feeling. It’s an embarrassingly honest look into early adolescents that will certainly make you cringe, but also allow you to reflect and ponder the way youth presents themselves in this age of social media.
The controversy with the MPAA rating system will probably never die, and will also most likely change in the future just as it has in the past. Nonetheless, it will certainly always be challenged in hopes to make authentic stories, like Breakfast Club and Eighth Grade, be more accessible to growing teens in this turbulent time of their lives.