After Love is Strange receives the same age rating as Sin City 2, we question how the MPAA works.
These days, if you’re walking into an R-rated movie, you’re more likely to see a woman being carved up by a chainsaw then you are to see her sexually pleasured. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is behind the rating, after all. The MPAA has always had trouble drawing a line in the sand, and recently it reared its muddled, ugly head again with the release of Love is Strange, which ostensibly rates an R (15 from the British Board of Film Classification) for language. But the rating has everyone asking: are the motherf***ers uttered enough? Or is it the fact that it follows John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a newly married gay couple?
Love is Strange rates an R for language. Or is it the fact that it follows John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a newly married gay couple?
There’s clearly something amiss. Ultimately, the film is rated by the MPAA, whose hypocrisy moves through cinemas like an iceberg: slowly changing, but forcibly and continually making its mark. The current system finds its roots in the early Hays Code, created by the Motion Pictures Distributor Association of America (MPDAA) president William Hays to ensure moral censorship in films across Hollywood. The idea was to never “lower the moral standards of those who see [the film].” Thus, on screen, there could only be non-mocking “correct standards for life,” which at the time meant absolutely no nudity or suggestive, “sinful” acts.
In 1966, the beginnings of the modern Hollywood model were far more parent-oriented. The US was already behind the times, with countries like Australia and the United Kingdom having already adopted similar methods. Ultimately, the MPAA would change the classification to the standard G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17, hoping to better bridge the gap between R and PG, while also distancing itself from the porn industry proudly co-opting the X rating. It’s designed so the MPAA’s panel of anonymous parent raters assign each movie a rating they deem appropriate, instead of leaving it to the MPAA’s belief of what American parents would rate them. So where’s the oversight?
From the outside it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot. In clear cut situations of intense violence or sexuality, as featured in films like Sin City: A Dame to Kill For or Blue is the Warmest Colour, a higher rating will logically be awarded. But between Casino Royale, which featured a torture scene, or Blue Valentine, which featured cunnilingus, the line seems to get a bit more grey. The former was rated PG-13, while the latter stirred controversy when it was initially given an NC-17 rating.
It’s worth asking ourselves what use the MPAA is doing us. Its film classification seems geared towards protecting a certain outdated demographic
Allegedly, there are criteria that the parents use to evaluate the rating – use or number of f-bombs, whether or not the violence is shown on screen, nudity at all, and so forth. But even MPAA head Joan Graves acknowledged at the South by Southwest Festival last year that ratings are still being used to appease particular constituencies (read: regions that don’t like language or sexuality). That certainly would explain how violence is acceptable if it stays implied and isn’t gratuitously shown on screen. Additionally, it would clear up how Love Is Strange, which seems about as contentious as vanilla yoghurt, could merit an R-rating: homophobia.
If that’s the case, then it’s worth asking ourselves what use the MPAA is doing us. Shadowy methods aside, as the classification of films seems to be increasingly subjective and geared towards protecting a certain, outdated demographic, the whole system seems to be a waste of time, money, and effort. If Love is Strange toes the same line as Sin City: A Dame to Kill For in the eyes of the MPAA, then it’s really not doing anybody any good.
Featured image: Sony Pictures Classics
Inset image: The Weinstein Company