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 Movies.com. 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."

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
South by Southwest Sends in the Clowns
South by Southwest Sends in the Clowns
Pamela Adlon, Frank Oz, John Leguizamo, and more for Comedy Festival

Richard Whittaker, Feb. 28, 2024

South by Southwest Film Wrapping Up With <i>The Idea of You</i>
South by Southwest Film Wrapping Up With The Idea of You
Michael Showalter’s new romance stars Anne Hathaway

Richard Whittaker, Jan. 30, 2024

More Screens Reviews
American Fiction, American Reality
American Fiction, American Reality
Cord Jefferson is putting the Black middle class back on the screen

Richard Whittaker, Dec. 15, 2023

2023 Oscar-Nominated Shorts: The Best of the Brief
2023 Oscar-Nominated Shorts: The Best of the Brief
Before the Academy votes, we pick our faves from the nominees

The Screens Staff, Feb. 17, 2023

More by Richard Whittaker
Opera Fights, Puppet Plays, and More Arty Events
Opera Fights, Puppet Plays, and More Arty Events
Get an arts fix this week

March 1, 2024

South by Southwest Sends in the Clowns
South by Southwest Sends in the Clowns
Pamela Adlon, Frank Oz, John Leguizamo, and more for Comedy Festival

Feb. 28, 2024

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

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

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle