From: firstname.lastname@example.org (snopes)
Date: 25 May 93 06:45:00 GMT
Subject: Re: The MPAA (long)
The following is the information I received from the Executive Directory of
the National Association of Theater Owners concerning the MPAA's rating system.
It's a pamphlet written by Jack Valenti, President and CEO of the MPAA. It's
got more than a bit of propaganda, but it does explain some of the background
of the ratings system from the point of view of the man who implemented it:
THE VOLUNTARY MOVIE RATING SYSTEM
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
When I became president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)
in May 1966, the slippage of Hollywood studio authority over the content of
films collided with an avalanching revision of American mores and customs.
By the summer of 1966, the national scene was marked by insurrections on
the campus, riots in the streets, rise in women's liberation, protest of the
young, doubts about the institution of marriage, abandonment of old guiding
slogans, and the crumbling of social traditions. It would have been foolish
to believe that movies, that most creative of art forms, could have remained
unaffected by society.
A New Kind of American Movie
The result of all this was the emergence of a "new kind" of American
movie -- frank and open, and made by filmmakers subject to very few
Almost within weeks in my new duties I was confronted with controversy,
neither amiable nor fixable. The first issue was the film "Who's Afraid of
Virginia Woolf," in which, for the first time on the screen, the word "screw"
and the phrase "hump the hostess" were heard. In company with the MPAA's
general counsel, Louis Nizer, I met with Jack Warner, the legendary chieftain
of Warner Bros., and his top aide, Ben Kalmenson. We talked for three hours,
and the result was deletion of "screw" and retention of "hump the hostess,"
but I was uneasy over the meeting.
It seemed wrong that grown men should be sitting around discussing such
matters. Moreover, I was uncomfortable with the thought that this was just
the beginning of an unsettling new era in film, in which we would lurch from
crisis to crisis, without any suitable solution in sight.
The second issue surfaced only a few months later. This time it was
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and the Michelangelo Antonioni film "The Blow-Up."
I met with MGM's chief executive officer because this movie also represented
a first -- the first time a major distributor was marketing a film with nudity
in it. The Production Code Administration in California had denied the seal.
I backed the decision, whereupon MGM distributed the film through a subsidiary
company, thereby flouting the voluntary agreement of MPAA member companies
that none would distribute a film without a Code seal.
Finally, in April 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutional
power of states and cities to prevent the exposure of children to books and
films which could not be denied to adults.
It was plain that the old system of self-regulation, begun with the
formation of the MPAA in 1922, had broken down. What few threads there were
holding together the structure created by Will Hays, one of my two
predecessors, had now snapped. From the very first day of my own succession
to the MPAA President's office, I had sniffed the Production Code constructed
by the Hays Office. There was about this stern, forbidding catalogue of "Dos
and Don'ts" the odious smell of censorship. I determined to junk it at the
first opportune moment.
I knew that the mix of new social currents, the irresistible force of
creators determined to make "their" films (full of wild candor, groused some
social critics), and the possible intrusion of government into the movie arena
demanded my immediate action.
Within weeks, discussions of my plan for a movie rating system began with
the president of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), and with
the governing committee of the International Film Importers & Distributors of
America (IFIDA), an assembly of independent producers and distributors.
Over the next five months, I held more than 100 hours of meetings with
these two organizations, as well as with guilds of actors, writers, directors
and producers, with craft unions, with critics, with religious organizations,
and with the heads of MPAA member companies.
THE BIRTH OF THE RATINGS
By early fall, I was ready. My colleagues in the National Association of
Theater Owners joined with me in affirming our objective of creating a new
and, at the time, revolutionary approach to how we would fulfill our
obligation to the parents of America.
My first move was to abolish the old and decaying Hays Production Code. I
did that immediately. Then on November 1, 1968, we announced the birth of the
new voluntary film rating system of the motion picture industry, with three
organizations, NATO, MPAA, and IFIDA, as its monitoring and guiding groups.
The initial design called for four rating categories:
+ G for General Audiences, all ages admitted;
+ M for mature audiences -- parental guidance suggested, but all ages
+ R for Restricted, children under 16 would not be admitted without an
accompanying parent or adult guardian.
+ X for no one under 17 admitted.
The rating system trademarked all the category symbols, except the X.
Under the plan, anyone not submitting his or her film for rating could
self-apply the X or any other symbol or description, except those trademarked
by the rating program. (The X rating's name has been changed to NC-17, a
trademarked symbol -- No Children Under 17 Admitted. This is explained more
fully later in this booklet.)
Our original plan had been to use only three rating categories, ending with
R. It was my view that parents ought to have the right to accompany their
children to any movie the parents chose, without the movie industry or the
government or self-appointed groups interfering with their rights. But the
theater owners organization (National Association of Theater Owners) urged the
creation of an adults-only category, fearful of possible legal redress under
state or local law. I acquiesced in NATO's reasoning and the four category
system, including the X rating, was installed.
So, the emergence of the voluntary rating system filled the vacuum provided
by my dismantling of the Hays Production Code. The movie industry would no
longer "approve or disapprove" the content of a film, but we would now see our
primary task as giving advance cautionary warnings to parents so that parents
could make the decision about the movie-going of their young children. That
decision is solely the responsibility of parents.
CHANGES IN THE RATING SYSTEM
We found early on that the M category (M meaning "Mature") was regarded by
most parents as a sterner rating than the R category. To remedy this
misconception, we changed the name from M to GP (meaning General audiences,
Parental guidance suggested). A year later we revised the name to its current
label, "PG: Parental Guidance Suggested."
On July 1, 1984, we made another adjustment. We split the PG category into
two groupings, PG and PG-13. PG-13 meant a higher level of intensity than was
to be found in a film rated PG. Over the past years, parents have approved of
this amplifying revision in the rating system.
On September 27, 1990, we announced two more revisions.
First, we introduced five-to-eight word explanations of why a particular
film received its R rating. Since, in the opinion of the Ratings Board, R
rated films contain adult material, we believed it would be useful to parents
to know a little more about that film's content before they allowed their
children to accompany them. These explanations would be available to parents
by calling the local theater playing that picture, or inquiring at the box
Second, we changed the name of the X category to NC-17: NO CHILDREN UNDER
17 ADMITTED. The X rating over the years appeared to have taken on a surly
meaning in the minds of many people, a meaning that was never intended when we
created the system. Therefore, we chose to go back to the original intent of
the design we installed on November 1, 1968, in which this "adults only"
category explicitly describes a movie that most parents would want to have
barred to viewing by their children. That was and is our goal, nothing less.
We have now trademarked "NC-17: NO CHILDREN UNDER 17 ADMITTED" so that this
rating symbol and the legend can be used only by those who submit their films
for rating. Other rating symbols are already federally registered trademarks.
Those who do not choose to participate in the rating system can take their
film to market using any letters or descriptions they desire, except the
trademarked symbols and legends of the rating system.
THE PURPOSE OF THE RATING SYSTEM
The basic purpose of the rating system is a simple one: to offer to parents
some advance information about movies so that parents can decide what movies
they want their children to see or not to see. The entire rostrum of the
rating program rests on the assumption of responsibility by parents. If
parents don't care, or if they are languid in guiding their children's movie
going, the rating system becomes useless. Indeed, if you are 17 or over, of
if you have no children, the rating system has no meaning for you. Ratings
are meant for parents, no one else.
The rating board does not rate movies on their quality of lack of quality.
That is a role left to film critics and audiences. Had we attempted to insert
ourselves into judging whether a film is "good, or bad or indifferent" we
would have collapsed the system before it began.
The criteria that go into the mix which becomes a rating board judgment are
theme, violence, language, nudity, sensuality, drug abuse, and other elements.
Part of the rating flows from how each of these elements is treated on-screen
by the filmmaker. In making their evaluation, the ratings board does not look
at snippets of film in isolation but considers the film in its entirety. The
rating board can make its decisions only by what they see on the screen, not
what is imagined or thought.
There is no special emphasis on any one of these elements. All are
considered. All are examined before a rating is applied. Contrary to popular
notion, violence is not treated more leniently than any of the other material.
Indeed many films rated X in the past, and NC-17 now, have at least
tentatively been given the "adults only" rating because of depictions of
violence. However, most of the directors/producers/distributors involved have
chosen, by their decision, to edit heavier violent scenes in order to receive
an R rating.
HOW THE RATINGS ARE DECIDED
The ratings are decided by a Rating Board located in Los Angeles. They
work for the Classification and Rating Administration, whose funding comes
from fees charged producers/distributors for the rating of their films. The
MPAA President chooses the Chairman of the rating Board, thereby insulating
the Board from industry or other group pressure. No one in the movie industry
has the authority or the power to push the Board in any direction. One of the
highest accolades to be conferred on the rating system is that from its birth
in 1968 to this hour, there has never been even the slightest jot of evidence
that the rating system has ever deliberately fudged a decision or bowed to
pressure. The Rating Board has always conducted itself at the highest level
of integrity. That is a large, honorable, and valuable asset.
There are no special qualifications for Board membership, except the
members must have a shared parenthood experience, must be possessed of an
intelligent maturity, and most of all, have the capacity to put themselves in
the role of most American parents so they can view a film and apply a rating
that most parents would find suitable and helpful in aiding their decisions
about their children's movie going.
As the MPAA President, I take no part in rating decisions, and do not
overrule or dissuade the Board from any decisions it makes.
No one is forced to submit a film to the Board for rating, but the vast
majority of producers/distributors do in fact submit their films for ratings.
Any producer/distributor who wants no part of any rating system is free to go
to the market without any rating at all or with any description or symbol they
choose as long as it is not confusingly similar to the G, PG, PG-13, R, and
NC-17 rating symbols. G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17 are federally-registered
certification marks of the MPAA. These rating symbols may not be
The Board Votes on Ratings
The Board views each film. Each member present estimates what most parents
would consider to be that film's appropriate rating. After group discussion,
the Board votes on the rating. Each member completes a rating form spelling
out his or her reason for the rating.
Each rating is decided by a majority vote.
The producer/distributor of a film has the right under the rules to inquire
as to the "why" of the rating applied. The producer/distributor also has the
right, based on the reasons for the rating, to edit the film -- if that is the
choice of the producer/distributor -- and come back to the Board to try for a
less severe rating. The re-edited film is brought back to the Board and the
process goes forward again.
Appeal of Ratings
A producer who for any reason is displeased with a rating can appeal the
decision to the Rating Appeals Board, which sits as the final arbiter of
The Appeals Board comprises 21 members, men and women from the industry
organizations that govern the rating system.
They gather to view the film and hear the appeal. After the screening, the
producer whose film is being appealed explains why he or she believes the
rating was wrongly decided. The chairman of the Rating Board states the
reason for the film's rating. Both the producer and the Rating Board
representative have an opportunity for rebuttal. In addition, the producer
may submit a written presentation to the Board prior to the oral hearing.
After Appeals Board members question the two opposing representatives, they
are excused from the room. The Board discusses the appeal and then takes a
secret ballot. It requires a two-thirds vote of those present to overturn a
Rating Board decision.
By this method of appeal, controversial decisions of the Rating Board can
be examined and any rating deemed a mistake set right.
The decision of the Appeals Board is final and cannot be appealed, although
the Appeals Board has the authority to grant a rehearing on the request of the
WHAT THE RATINGS MEAN
G: "General Audiences -- All ages admitted."
This is a film which contains nothing in theme, language, nudity and sex,
violence, etc. which would, in the view of the Rating Board, be offensive to
parents whose younger children view the film. The G rating is *not* a
"certificate of approval," nor does it signify a children's film.
Some snippets of language may go beyond polite conversation, but they are
common everyday expressions. No stronger words are present in G-rated films.
The violence is at a minimum. Nudity and sex scenes are not present; nor is
there any drug use content.
PG: "Parental Guidance Suggested; some material may not be suitable for
This is a film which clearly needs to be examined or inquired about by
parents before they let their children attend. The label PG plainly states
that parents may consider some material unsuitable for their children, but the
parent must make the decision.
Parents are warned against sending their children, unseen without inquiry,
to PG-rated movies.
There may be some profanity in these films. There may be violence, but it
is not deemed so strong that everyone under 17 need be restricted unless
accompanied by a parent. Nor is there cumulative horror or violence that may
take a film all the way into the R category. There is no drug use content.
There is no explicit sex in a PG-rated film, although there may be some
indication of sensuality. Brief nudity may appear in an unrestricted film,
but anything beyond that puts the film into R.
The PG rating, suggesting parental guidance, is thus an alert for special
examination of a film by parents before deciding on its viewing by their
Obviously the line is difficult to draw. In our pluralistic society it is
not easy to make subjective judgments without incurring some disagreement. So
long as parents know they must exercise parental responsibility, the rating
serves as a meaningful guide and as a warning.
PG-13: "Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate
for children under 13."
PG-13 is thus a sterner warning to parents to determine for themselves the
attendance in particular of their younger children, as they might consider
some material not suited for them. Parents, by the rating, are alerted to be
very careful about the attendance of their under-teenage children.
A PG-13 film is one which, in the view of the Rating Board, leaps beyond
the boundaries of the PG rating, but does not quite fit within the restricted
R category. Any drug use content will initially require at least a PG-13
rating. In effect, the PG-13 cautions parents with more stringency than usual
to give special attention to this film before they allow their 12-year olds
and younger to attend.
If nudity is sexually oriented, the film will generally not be found in the
PG-13 category. If violence is rough or persistent, the film goes into the R
(restricted) rating. A film's single use of one of the harsher sexually-
derived words, though only as an expletive, shall require the Rating Board to
issue that film at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive must
lead the Rating Board to issue a film an R rating, as must even one of these
words used in a sexual context. These films can be rated less severely,
however, if by a special vote, the Rating Board feels that a lesser rating
would more responsibly reflect the opinion of American parents.
PG-13 places larger responsibilities on parents for their children's
movie-going. The voluntary rating system is not a surrogate parent, nor
should it be. It cannot, and should not, insert itself in family decisions
that only parents can, and should, make. Its purpose is to give prescreening
advance informational warnings, so that parents can form their own judgments.
PG-13 is designed to make these parental decisions easier for those films
between PG and R.
R: "Restricted, under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian."
In the opinion of the Rating Board, this film definitely contains adult
material. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about this film before
they allow their children to accompany them.
An R-rated film has adult content that may include hard language, or tough
violence, or nudity within sensual scenes, or drug abuse or other elements, or
a combination of some of the above. That is why parents are counseled, in
advance, to take this advisory rating very seriously.
NC-17: "No children under 17 admitted."
This rating declares that the Ratings Board believes that this is patently
an adult film. No children will be admitted. NC-17 does not necessarily mean
"obscene or pornographic" in the oft-accepted meaning of those words. The
Board does not and cannot mark films with those words. These are legal terms
and for courts to decide. The reasons for the application of an NC-17 rating
can mean strong violence or sex or aberrational behavior or drug abuse or any
other element which, when present, most parents would want to be off-limits
for viewing by their children.
In any appraisal, what is "too much?" becomes very controversial. How much
is "too much" violence? Are classic war films too violent with scenes of
marines storming a beach and slaying hundreds, wounding thousands? Is is the
graphic cop killing, the gangster shoot-out, or the slap across the face of a
woman that determines "too much?" How much is "blood spilled" to be given
emphasis? Where is the line to be drawn between "this is alright" and "this
is not alright?"
The same vexing doubts occur in sex scenes or those where language rises on
the Richter scale, or where behavior not considered "normal" is revealed on
the screen. What follows is disagreement, inevitable, inexorable, and
oftentimes strident. That is what the rating system has to endure and
confront. We understand that. We try to do our level best so that most
parents would find our ratings mostly accurate and mostly useful.
But, importantly, we urge and implore parents to care about what their
children see and watch, to focus their attention on movies so they can know
more about a film before they consent to their children watching it.
To oversee the Rating Board, the film industry has set up a Policy Review
Committee consisting of officials of MPAA and NATO. These men and women set
guidelines for the Rating Board to follow, and make certain that the Board
carries them out reasonably and appropriately.
Because the rating program is a self-regulatory apparatus of the film
industry, it is important that no single element of the industry take on the
authority of a "czar" beyond any discipline or self-restraint.
Advertising and Trailer Policy
Film advertising is part of the film industry's self-regulatory mechanism.
All advertising for rated motion pictures must be submitted to the
Advertising Administration for approval prior to its release to the public.
This includes, but is not limited to, print ads, radio and TV spots,
pressbooks, videocassette packaging and theatrical and home video trailers.
Trailers are an important aspect of the program. They are approved for
"all audiences," which means they may be shown with all feature films, or
"restricted audiences," which limits their use to feature films rated R or
NC-17. There will be, in "all audience" trailers, no scenes that caused the
feature to be rated PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17.
Each trailer carries at the front a tag which tells two things: (1) the
audience for which the trailer has been approved, and (2) the rating of the
picture being advertised. The tag for "all audience" trailers will have a
green background; the tag for "restricted" trailers will have a red
background. The color is to alert the projectionist against mismatching
trailers with the film being shown on the theater screen.
HOW THE RATING SYSTEM IS USED BY THEATER OWNERS AND VIDEO RETAILERS
Motion picture theater owners, who co-founded the rating system in 1968,
were the first group in the entertainment industry to voluntarily enforce its
guidelines. NATO estimates that about 85% of the theater owners in the nation
subscribe to the rating system, and will not admit a child under 17 to an R
rated motion picture with an accompanying parent or adult guardian, or admit a
child under 17 to an NC-17 rated motion picture under any circumstance.
In the mid 1980's, as watching movies on videocassettes at home soared in
popularity, video retailers joined theater owners in embracing the voluntary
guidelines of the rating system. Parents who relied on the rating system to
determine which films their children viewed in theaters found the information
provided by the rating classifications equally helpful in home video. To
facilitate its use, ratings are displayed on both the videocassette package
and the cassette itself.
The Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA), which is the major trade
association for video retailers in the United States, has strongly endorsed
the observance of the voluntary movie rating system by video retailers.
THE PUBLIC REACTION
We count it crucial to make regular soundings to find out how the public
perceives the rating program, and to measure the approval and disapproval of
what we are doing.
Nationwide scientific polls, conducted each year by the Opinion Research
Corporation of Princeton, New Jersey, have consistently given the rating
program high marks by parents throughout the land. The latest poll results
show that 75% of parents with children under 18 found the ratings to be "very
useful" to "fairly useful" in helping them make decisions for the movie-going
of their children. This is an all time high for the rating system.
On the evidence of the polls, the rating system would not have survived if
it were not providing a useful service to parents.
The rating system isn't perfect but, in an imperfect world, it seems each
year to match the expectations of those whom it is designed to serve --
parents of America.