This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)

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Published on: 2007.04.08

IMDb: This Film Is Not Yet Rated
Wikipedia: This Film Is Not Yet Rated
Rating: None
(Rating was surrendered; NC-17 was suggested by the MPAA ratings board)
Length: 97 minutes (1:37)
Director: Kirby Dick
Genre: Documentary

“This Film Is Not Yet Rated” is a documentary that follows one filmmakers’ quest into the innards of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and its ratings board.

Perhaps you’ve heard rumors or interviews about movie directors being upset at the rating they received, like Trey Parker and Matt Stone when they made Team America: World Police (Rated: “R”) or South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut (Rated: “R”). Both of those movies reportedly received NC-17 ratings originally, though one is entirely animated, and the other is entirely acted out by puppets.

The documentary made the MPAA look pretty dark and mysterious, and one of the movie’s claims is that the MPAA’s rating board is secretive. I did a little research, and found it to be true. On, the organization itself says the board members’ names are kept secret to prevent them from influence. What it actually does, according to the movie, is keep them unaccountable to the public.

Kirby Dick hired a private investigator in the movie to find out who exactly were the members of the ratings board. What he found out was that they don’t actually represent the average parent in America. Most of them have children, but they have adult children.

According to the MPAA: “Each member estimates what most parents would consider to be that film and appropriate rating.” (I know; it isn’t even a complete sentence, but that’s what the MPAA site says.) It goes on: “After group discussion, the Board votes on the rating. Each member completes a rating form, spelling out his or her reason for the rating. The rating is then decided by a majority vote.”

Dick’s documentary questions the consistency of the MPAA’s ratings, and the morality of it. Dick, and a few others interviewed in the film ask: Why is violence okay for “R” and “PG-13” movies, but certain types of nudity and sexual activities get an automatic “NC-17” rating?

Of course, no one’s forced to submit any films to the MPAA board for a rating. And even if they do, the filmmaker doesn’t have to accept the rating.

“Any producer/distributor who wants no part of any rating system is free to go to the market without any rating, 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,” the MPAA website says.

The problem is, there are very few distributors who’ll put out a movie without a rating or with a rating of NC-17. Also, most films without a rating, or with a rating of NC-17, can’t get an advertising budget, so the public won’t even be aware that the movie is on the market. And, to make matters worse, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) is a huge supporter of the MPAA ratings system. If your movie isn’t rated, chances are, it won’t even get on the screen.

Most places in the country won’t show an NC-17 movie, even it’s just one scene that pushed the film over the edge.

In Dick’s documentary, he also points out that the MPAA many times won’t tell a filmmaker specifically what it is that caused the rating in the first place. There is an appeal process, but the filmmaker who appeals isn’t allowed to mention any other films or a “precedent” in the ratings system.

So, when you see one movie that has nudity, 200 f-words, bloody violence and gore, drug use, etc., and it gets an “R” rating, there’s no guarantee that the next one will get the same rating. It might be NC-17, even though it’s cleaner than the first one.

But before we bash the MPAA too much, let’s take into account what the world would be like without it.

What if there were no rating system?

What if your child, or teenager, requested to see a movie that’s just been released, and there’s no rating on the movie? Do you let them go? You’d have to rely on the word of friends or relatives about whether the movie is “child-safe.” Of course, nowadays, with the advent of the internet, there are quite a few websites that apply a conservative look at movies so you’ll know a little more than parents in the past.

But the rating system, for all its faults, DOES give a general guideline for parents. And, a side-effect is that it also lets adults know which movies are probably too childish for an adult audience.

Many times, you can tell by the tone of a preview whether the movie will be acceptable for children, but not always. They’re not showing the nudity or heavy violence in the movie trailers, and especially not in the previews on television. So the rating can help you know. If it’s “R,” then it probably has those elements in it.

But not always. Sometimes the “R” rating comes purely from language. Sometimes purely from violence (like The Matrix).

Anyway, the documentary was intriguing, well-made, and it kept my attention the entire 97 minutes.

A word of warning, though, this film contains clips from NC-17 films &mdash the very clips that caused those movies to get that rating &mdash so it may not be appropriate for all audiences. But if you love movies, and have been curious about the rating system, this one provides the answers.

Other links of interest:
MPAA’s description of ratings

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