The terrific new documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated takes us into the murky world of American censorship. Not only is it murky because its critirea is so arbitrary but it is done entirely in secret, or at least it was until this film was released!
The director (the wonderful Kirby Dick) is on screen in the film as he hires a pair of detectives to find out who these people are and how they make their ratings. He and the detectives do a great job of finding out who these people are and Mr. Dick then weaves this in to other information he uncovers and puts it all into context. Why the secrecy? It’s because they have something to hide of course.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) run for decades by Jack Valenti is a group in the film industry with government ties that self-regulates supposedly so the government won’t. This is really a joke because as it explained, if the government got involved there would be a judiciary branch to oversee abuses. As it is now there is no recourse if the MPAA gives your film an R or a NC-17. You can appeal but if you lose and get an NC-17 newspapers and television stations will not carry your ads so you have no way of reaching the masses. The same corporate entities that own the film industry also own much of that media.
Also important is that the media is now owned by 6 entities and their parent companies, they now literally own 90% of all mainstream media in the US. May I add yet again this is why we desperately need to bust media consolidation hard, we all lose with no competition and the power it gives these corporations is everything our Founding Fathers would weep over.
We learn so many things in the documentary, like who views and votes on the films and who sits on the appeals board. One of the most shocking is that there are 2 clergy members on the board and they vote even thought we are told officially that they don’t (always an Episcopalian and a Catholic priest). We also learn via the South Park co-creator Matt Stone that independent films are treated much worse than Studio films (he has done both) and we learn that it is sex and not violence that is censored. There are so many horrendous scenes of violence in PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 films but it is the sex that freaks these censors. They say that one is not considered worse than the other but Mr. Dick shows that sex is 75% of what is objected to and violence only 25%.
There are wonderful filmmakers from Kimberly Pierce (Boys Don’t Cry) to John Waters as well as the actress Maria Bello who take their careers in their hands by talking on the record about their problems with the MPAA, the very board who will rate their next films. These brave people are to be applauded, in a time when people are afraid to speak out these people tell their stories.
A few former members of the ratings board speak out (although now they are made to sign something forbidding them from ever talking or writing about this, a true abuse of power in asking people to give up their first amendment rights). We find out there have not been any openly gay members of the ratings board and the director shows instances of gay sex in exactly the same form as straight sex side by side on screen, only the gay sex is always carries a stronger rating. Love is love and sex is sex but the ratings board thinks same sex is dirty or more objectionable (anyone sense the clergy here?). There are loads of film clips all throughout the film to illustrate and since many of these are explicit this documentary is given an NC-17!
Please check this film if it comes to your town and if it doesn’t then look for it on DVD or cable. It’s entertaining and incredibly informative. Here are a list of Theaters and Dates where the film will be playing.