The IFC Center theater in New York City recently announced that it will allow children to see the sexually explicit film Blue Is the Warmest Color…in spite of the fact that the film is rated NC-17 (what used to be called “rated X.”) The PTC opposes IFC’s decision.
The current film ratings classification system (G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17) was set up by the Motion Picture Association of America to give theater owners and parents guidelines about the content of individual movies, and the appropriate age level for each. But legally, the ratings system is not binding on theater owners. If a theater chooses to ignore the ratings, there is nothing the MPAA can do about it.
The owners of the IFC Center have announced that, because they feel this film is “important,” they will allow “mature” and “inquiring” minors to see it. But whose place is it to decide which children are “mature” and “inquiring” enough to see an X-rated move, and which ones are not? Nearly everyone would agree that that is the parent’s call. The movie ratings system was set up to assist parents in making that call. But now, a movie theater has decided that parents should have no say; that it is the THEATER’S “right” to ignore the ratings system, and admit children to an X-rated movie containing graphic scenes of “simulated sex, masturbation, oral copulation, and the fondling of breasts and genitals.” An individual theater owner has decided to let kids see pornography…no matter what the ratings system, or parents, may think.
Here at the PTC, any time we state that the entertainment industry ought to exercise a degree of responsibility and restraint, we constantly hear the response: “It’s the PARENTS’ responsibility to keep their kids from seeing graphic content.” But how can parents act responsibly when any theater owner can choose to ignore ratings guidelines any time he or she chooses?
By its action, the IFC Center is usurping the entire system intended to protect children from age-inappropriate content. If this goes unchallenged, then the entire MPAA rating system and the protective measures it provides are rendered null and void.
IFC has buckets full of excuses, of course…but none of them hold water. They cite all the awards the movie won, or the fact that it contains “coming of age” messages, or claim the film is “important.” We’ve heard all these arguments before, such as when CBS wanted to show the graphically violent premium cable series Dexter on the public airwaves at 8 p.m.; and the arguments are no more convincing now that IFC is trying to allow kids to see pornography than they were in the past.
As we did with last year’s Bully, we must ask: if this film is so “important” for kids to see, then why is the theater making kids buy a ticket to see it? If this film is so crucially “important” for young people, why don’t the film’s makers release it free online, so that all kids are guaranteed access to it?
In fact, of course, this film is not “important” – no more so than any other explicit sex movie. By ignoring the MPAA ratings system and allowing children into its theater, IFC is merely using phony sanctimony to drum up hype and press coverage of a film that, otherwise, nobody would go see – least of all teenagers. IFC’s publicity efforts are deliberately marketing adult material to children.(The Federal Trade Commission might be interested in this.) It’s also notable that IFC refers to “patrons” instead of “children” – which is what these “patrons” are.
Are parents going to stand for a movie theater deciding which movies to let underage children into? How will the theater’s management determine that the children are “high school patrons”? Will they card them? Will the theater enforce ANY age cutoff? Or will they allow any child of any age into this X-rated movie? And if they DO enforce an age cutoff, doesn’t that make the theater management hypocrites? If the movie is “important” enough for a 16 year old to see, why not a 12 year old? Why not an eight year old? They’re all minors, all underage, all legally children. And if IFC is going to ignore the NC-17 rating on this movie, will they ignore it on others? Will other theater owners follow suit? Will theaters even continue use the MPAA’s age rating?
The point is far less what one tiny theater in Manhattan does; it is the precedent this action sets. If IFC’s decision is allowed to stand, how long will it be before every theater in the country will be allowing kids in to see R- and X-rated movies? Teenagers have a huge amount of disposable income, and theater owners stand to make a lot of money if they abandon their age ratings and restrictions altogether.