Voices of NOW NYC: Calling on the MPAA to Accurately Rate Films

bryn.jpgBryn Taylor is a member of NOW-NYC’s Women and Girls in the Media Committee. She lives and works in New York as a freelance fashion writer and stylist.
With sex and violence running rampant throughout the entertainment industry, one might think (or hope) that regulations would become increasingly more strict as the entertainment becomes raunchier. Sadly, this is not the case. In fact, Hollywood’s guidelines are becoming more lenient by the minute, and everything seems up for interpretation.
A recent report by NOW-NYC’s Women and Girls in the Media Committee (WAGM) uncovered the startling fact that a number of films in circulation today fail to accurately warn against the sexual content they contain. The Motion Picture Association of America is in charge of assigning detailed and precise ratings to films. And they are not doing their job.
In response, WAGM spearheaded a campaign aimed at the MPAA and its failure to include warnings of rape and/or sexually aggressive behavior in movies where these abominable acts are clearly depicted. The committee compiled a list of 144 films released between January 1996 and March 2006 that had received either an R or NC-17 rating with mention of sexual content, but no specific mention of rape or sexually aggressive behavior (which we have defined as “any non-consensual sexual contact/behavior… that does not result in sexual penetration�). Of the 144 films screened, 31 depict rapes or attempted rapes, and 66 contain characters that are victims of sexually aggressive behavior.
The MPAA’s method of rating is subjective at best. There are no specific definitions as to what constitutes rape, or any type of sexual content. Without standards by which to judge, each film’s rating is prone to the whims and fancies of its raters. This leads to the inevitability of biased judgments and opinion-based decisions. Where one rater might find a scene to be sexually violent, another might judge it as harmless or even arousing.

In a letter to the MPAA, our committee outlined its findings and suggested specific guidelines to follow when reviewing movies containing sexual content. Among the suggestions was a proposal to adopt specific definitions of rape and sexually aggressive behavior, and we even offered our own suggested definitions. The committee also suggested a retroactive move on the part of the MPAA to review films released on DVD for ratings clarification following these newly proposed guidelines. Finally, WAGM advised against any rating below that of an R for films depicting rape and sexually aggressive behavior.
As of December 2007, WAGM has yet to receive a response from the MPAA. In the interim, the committee has initiated an online petition with the goal of collecting 7,500 signatures by the end of the year. We are hoping for a sit-down with MPAA members to discuss the implications of such a lapse within the ratings system. We want to make clear to the MPAA that this is not a fight to cap the artistic freedom of filmmakers or fuel the fires of censorship. Rather, it is a wake-up call to an association that has been failing at the very thing it was created to do.

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