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What does the MPAA do?

The MPAA developed the modern rating system when the old Hays code started to look culturally outdated.
The MPAA reviews the level of sexual or violent content in a film, then classifies its appropriateness for certain age groups.
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  • Written By: Garry Crystal
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Images By: Joe Ross, Goodluz
  • Last Modified Date: 30 July 2014
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The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is a group of people who decide on the age certifications given to films released in the US. The group has a lot of power with regards to how films are eventually presented to the public, and they have the ability to recommend cuts made to films in order to lower or raise the age range that can view a film. It is a non-profit trade organization, and the identity of the members involved is kept secret. The purpose of the group is not only film classification, but also copyright protection and criminal law, and its members have links to the seven major American film studios.

The film classification process used by the MPAA is intended to be voluntary, which means that it will recommend cuts made to a film if the content is graphically sexual or violent. The filmmaker is not required to make these cuts, but the film's certification will reflect the content of the film. Many films have been cut in order to avoid an NC-17 rating, a rating that means that no person under the age of 17 can see the film in theaters. Most filmmakers do not want this rating, as it lowers the amount of people who can view the film. In terms of business over art, business often dictates that cuts to a film be made in order to achieve a lower rating.

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The organization really began in 1922, when Will H. Hays was appointed president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. In 1930, he became responsible for the Motion Picture Production Code, a collection of movie censorship guidelines. Eric Johnston became president in 1945, and the institution's name was changed to the MPAA.

The MPAA has come under heavy criticism over the years, an more so with the release of the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated in 2006. The film takes an in-depth look at the secretive workings of the group, and director Kirby Dick even went as far as to hire private detectives to follow its members.

One report of MPAA rules gone awry regards film advance screenings. At a press screening of the film Derailed in 2005, members of the public were subjected to body searches. Those who refused had their mobile phones confiscated and were subjected to staff observation throughout the film screening. The fear of illegal copies of the film being made led to these checks.

Critics of the organization have said that the group cannot be unbiased while working with the major film studios. The monopoly these studios hold is said to be detrimental to the smaller independent filmmaker. Film critics have called for an entirely new process of film rating. At present, there seem to be no plans for this, and the MPAA continues to be a very powerful force in the film industry.

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Discuss this Article

Monika
Post 8

@indemnifyme - I don't know, it sounds like the name of the members of the MPAA are kept secret for their own safety. There is a lot of money to be made (and lost) on movies. I can just see some director getting upset because his movie was rated NC-17 instead of rate R, and maybe going after someone on the MPAA.

indemnifyme
Post 7

I had no idea that the names of the members of the MPAA are kept secret! I think that's a little ridiculous, and it makes what they're doing seem kind of shady.

If you're going to have an opinion about what is "appropriate" to show in a film, you should really put your name on it and stick by it. It's easy to express an opinion when no one knows who you are though.

JaneAir
Post 6

@LoriCharlie - I see what you're saying, but I think it kind of makes sense to have people that are in the movie industry do the ratings and recommend cuts. They probably have a better idea of what you could cut and still have film flow alright.

LoriCharlie
Post 5

I think it is highly suspect that the members of the MPAA have ties to major film studios. As the article said, giving a film a certain rating can affect how many people can see the film, and how well the film does over all.

So the MPAA should really be made up of unbiased people that don't have anything to gain or lose by rating a film. Plus, I think it would make more sense to have members of the general movie going public rate films anyway!

profess
Post 4

I really appreciate the MPAA. There is so much sex, violence, crude humor and bad language in the culture these days that as a parent I have to work really hard to police what my children see. Knowing that a movie is PG or G and appropriate for my children saves me a lot of worry and a lot of time not having to pre-screen things. I know the ratings aren't perfect, questionable content definitely slips by, but it gives me a starting point.

vigilant
Post 3

Can someone tell me more about the history of the MPAA. How did it become the giant that it is today. Was there one film or scene that sparked a public outrage and lead people to call for a ratings system? How did we get here?

BAU79
Post 2

I think that more often than not the MPAA is an obstacle to artistic expression rather than a guardian of public decency. I understand why it exists, but movies these days are such big business and the rating effects the box office so much that I feel like ratings have begun to dictate content.

You hear all the time about directors and editors having to remove or soften things from their films because they want to avoid an R rating. But the line between PG-13 and R is so arbitrary. I have seen PG-13 movies that were disgusting and shocking and R movies that I would feel comfortable showing to little children. The whole system seems to have no foundation underneath it which is frustrating because it has such a big effect.

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