This Panel Is Not Yet Rated

The MPAA casts a long shadow over filmmaking

Scott E. Weinberg and Classification and Rating Administration chair Joan Graves
Scott E. Weinberg and Classification and Rating Administration chair Joan Graves
Photo by Richard Whittaker

SXSW Film Conference Quick Cuts

This Panel Is Not Yet Rated

Sunday, March 10, Austin Convention Center

Few entities make filmmakers grind their teeth more than the Motion Picture Association of America and its grip on distribution through the ratings system. Yet when moderator Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress promised "a free, open and three-dimensional discussion" about the process, it was mostly, almost surprisingly, polite.

SXSW first-timer Joan Graves, chair of the Classification and Rating Administration, called it "a board of parents giving information to parents." She praised longtime MPAA President Jack Valenti for replacing 45 localized ratings bodies with one national standard, and for managing to convince religious groups to sign off on a studio-run appeals system. However, she seemingly undercut the whole idea of national standard when arguing that the complaints about movie ratings were distinct by region: The South is tougher on bad language, while major cities tend to worry more about violence. She said, "We're supposed to reflect standards, not create them."

Probably the most vocal local critic of the MPAA is Scott Weinberg of Twitch and He challenged it on inconsistency, saying: "I see dozens and dozens of PG-13 action films where hundreds and hundreds of people get killed. ... I'd like to see more attention paid to that than, say, a stray nipple." However, Graves quickly rejected his suggestion that the board might add critics, psychologists, and film historians to the parent-run body, saying the idea had been rejected before.

The MPAA is not the world's only rating body. Vincenzo Natali, director of Haunter, recalled growing up under the restrictive Ontario Censor Board. He said, "Every film I wanted to see – Excalibur, Altered States, The Thing – was impossible for me to see." When he handed genetic horror Splice over to the association, he said, "My fear was that we would get an NC-17 because of the concept."

For good or ill, the MPAA will remain a shadow over filmmakers' shoulders. Travis Stevens of Snowfort Pictures put it simply: "I set out to make the best version of a film possible, and if it's an NC-17, we'll deal with it."

More Motion Picture Association of America
Open Up – It's the Filmmakers!
Open Up – It's the Filmmakers!
Kirby Dick raids the MPAA

Marc Savlov, March 10, 2006

The Bold One
The Bold One
Action/horror heartthrob John Saxon brings two classics to the Alamo

Marc Savlov, Nov. 21, 2003

More Screens Reviews
Local Video Game Releases
Local Video Game Releases
A handful of local games showcase the weird side of interactive art

James Renovitch, Jan. 16, 2015

You Oughta See the Pictures
You Oughta See the Pictures
New film books

Nov. 21, 2014

More by Richard Whittaker
Fabio Frizzi Takes Austin to <i>The Beyond</i>
Fabio Frizzi Takes Austin to The Beyond
First word on performance of new score for grisly classic

Aug. 24, 2016

The Terror Behind <i>Terror of Frankenstein</i>
The Terror Behind Terror of Frankenstein
Austin debut of mind-bending horror Director's Commentary

Aug. 24, 2016


Motion Picture Association of America, MPAA, SXSW, Think Progress, Alyssa Rosenberg, Joan Graves, Vincenzo Natali, Haunter, Splice, Travis Stevens, Snowfort Pictures, Ontario Censor Board, censorship, ratings

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)