• Little Boy, Fifty Shades, and the MPAA’s Inconsistent Ratings Standards

    by  • April 22, 2015 • Movies, Profanity, Sex, Violence • 9 Comments

    Costco PollThe family-friendly film Little Boy contains only  mild wartime violence, no profanity, no sex, and is filled with positive, family-friendly messages; but it has been rated PG-13 —  the same rating as movies containing far more extreme content.

    In 1968, Hollywood abandoned the old Production Code, which had actually required filmmakers to act responsibly in creating entertainment – and under which, the film industry had produced classics like Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, Gone With The Wind, The Maltese Falcon, High Noon, On the Waterfront, Ben-Hur, and literally hundreds of others.  Instead, the industry switched  over to the Motion Picture Association of America’s movie-rating scheme, under which — like the farcical TV ratings system today – filmmakers were allowed to make any kind of content they wanted (provided they could obtain financial backing), with the burden of determining appropriate content dumped onto parents and viewers.

    While less than ideal, for many years the movie rating system worked well enough; but in recent years, the MPAA’s standards have slipped disastrously, with more and more explicit content being rated appropriate for young teens.

    As stated in US News and World Report, last year, two studies by the Annenberg Public Policy Center demonstrated the MPAA’s growing failure to accurately rate films.  One study showed that R-rated levels of violence are increasingly appearing in PG-13 rated films. The other demonstrated that the violence in such films is frequently linked to other risky behaviors like sex, smoking, and drinking. And as was widely reported in the press, a recently-published scientific study in the medical journal Pediatrics found that gun violence in PG-13–rated films has more than tripled since 1985.

    According to the overwhelming majority of America’s parents, the MPAA is far too lenient in its rating of movie content. Joan Graves, the head of the MPAA’s Classification and Rating Administration, has admitted that, after reaching out to parents, “it overwhelmingly came back that they don’t want even one F-word in PG-13.” In spite of this, current MPAA policy is to allow one f-word in a PG-13 film, only imposing an R rating if the film features more. Or that is supposedly the rule; in fact, many movies of late have featured more than one f-bomb, and even more graphic violent and sexual content, and have still received a PG-13 rating. As proof, consider the following examples:

    • The MPAA has repeatedly lowered the rating on Hollywood boss Harvey Weinstein’s films, no matter how much graphic language they contain. In 2011, the ratings group lowered the rating on Weinstein’s documentary Bully from R to PG-13, even though it contained multiple f-bombs.  Two years later, the MPAA lowered Weinstein’s Philomena from an R to a PG-13, again despite the movie’s repeated use of the f-word.
    • Also in 2013, filmmakers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg deliberately larded their upcoming film This Is The End with unbelievably graphic sex scenes, including one between a human being and a demon sporting an enormous erection. They did this deliberately hoping to get an NC-17 rating. The two filmmakers confessed that their plan was to cram in excessive amounts of explicit content, and then, when the MPAA rated the film NC-17, to snip out a tiny bit of the content, thus obtaining a lower rating of R. But even the directors were flabbergasted when their movie was given an R rating right out of the gate.
    • In 2014, the football-themed film Draft Day was originally rated R by the MPAA for “strong language.” Yet rather than requiring the filmmakers to either accept the rating or cut out some of the foul language, the MPAA happily rolled over for the filmmakers when they asked for a lower rating. The film was re-rated PG-13.
    • Just last month, the MPAA gave a PG-13 rating to the teen “comedy” Barely Lethal. The movie, about a 16-year-old murderer containing sexual material, teen drinking, foul language, drug references, and graphic violence, was originally rated R; but the MPAA decided such content was ideal for 13 year old children, and once again lowered the rating to PG-13.
    • The most notable example of the MPAA’s utter lack of scruples regarding its rating system came this past Valentine’s Day, with the release of the unbelievably graphic bondage-and-sexual-torture film Fifty Shades of Grey.  So explicit was Fifty Shades that the movie’s own screenwriter said that the movie should be rated NC-17.  One of the film’s producers Dana Brunetti agreed – as did the British Board of Film Classification (the UK’s equivalent of the MPAA), which gave the film an “18 & Over Only” rating — meaning that no one under 18 would be admitted to the film, even if accompanied by an adult.  The BBFC cited the film’s “strong sex and nudity, along with the portrayal of erotic role play based on domination, submission and sado-masochistic practices” in determining the rating, as well as its “strong verbal references to sex practices and the instruments used.”

    But surprise, surprise: the MPAA gave the film an R rating, meaning it considered Fifty Shades of Grey as perfectly acceptable for children under 17, so long as they were accompanied by an “adult” (even an 18-year-old friend). The entertainment industry often complains that Europe is more open-minded about sex in film than America; but that demonstrates just how extreme this decision was…yet it was a typical one for the MPAA. (Actually, given the organization’s tendencies listed above, the real surprise is that Fifty Shades of Grey didn’t also receive a PG-13 rating.)

    Given this history, one would certainly expect that a family-friendly film like Little Boy – one completely devoid of profanity or sexual content, containing only a few brief and mild scenes of men under fire during wartime, and promoting positive messages like the evils of bigotry, the need to do good to one’s fellow men, and the power of faith –should be given a rating of PG. And it definitely would never be rated PG-13, like Philomena, Draft Day, or Barely Lethal.

    But it was.

    As confirmed by The Hollywood Reporter, the MPAA decided that Little Boy had “too much violence” for a PG rating. After being told this, Little Boy’s producers diligently cut out most of the violent footage – but the MPAA still wasn’t satisfied, and stood their ground (which is more than they did when Harvey Weinstein appealed his movie’s ratings). The filmmakers then appealed the rating, which typically results in a lowered rating; but not in this case.

    While the MPAA, incredibly, claims that “violence” is the reason for Little Boy’s PG-13 rating, some believe other forces are in play. A major point in the movie is the unreasoning hatred and bigotry faced by Hashimoto, a Japanese resident of the town, during the virulently anti-Japanese sentiment of post-Pearl Harbor World War II. During the course of the film, to show this bigotry, Hashimoto is called “Jap” by other residents…though the film’s hero, the “little boy” of the title, befriends him and even defends him to the other townsfolk. With its ultra-sensitivity to racial dialogue (a sensitivity not shown toward use of the f-word), Hollywood’s self-appointed ratings barons are punishing a truly family film by denying entrance to anyone under age 13.

    Or the explanation may be simpler yet: unlike Harvey Weinstein or Seth Rogen, the makers of Little Boy are hardly celebrities or entertainment industry giants…but they are challenging Hollywood’s status quo of foul-mouthed, gory, and sexually depraved content with a film which uplifts viewers, encourages genuine tolerance, and actually sees value in matters of faith.

    “We set out to make a film that the entire family could enjoy together — from kids to grandparents. Our goal from the very beginning was for it to be PG, and we honestly feel we have done that… Hollywood’s idea of what is objectionable content is very different from the Americans I meet when I travel across America. The parents that I know are tired of having their kids saturated with sex, violence and disrespectful behavior. Our movie has none of that,” said Little Boy’s producer Eduardo Verastegui.

    So: no matter how many f-bombs and s-words, how much violence or sex a movie contains, the MPAA will willingly lower its rating from R to PG-13; but a few uses of a racial epithet – even when the fact that bigotry is wrong is the entire message of the movie! – and the MPAA will force a PG-13 rating on a clearly PG film.

    Some might accuse the film’s producers of paranoia, were they to claim that the MPAA’s actions represent a deliberate vendetta against family-friendly films in general, and Christian filmmaking in particular. But given the way the MPAA consistently punishes clean content while giving a pass to f-bombs, pornography, and gore, it’s hard to reach any other conclusion.



    Christopher Gildemeister is the PTC’s Head of Research Operations. He began as an Entertainment Analyst at the PTC in 2005. From 2007-2016, he was Senior Writer/Editor, responsible for communicating the PTC’s message to the public through newsletters, columns, and the PTC Watchdog blog. Dr. Gildemeister holds a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America.

    9 Responses to Little Boy, Fifty Shades, and the MPAA’s Inconsistent Ratings Standards

    1. Frank
      June 5, 2017 at 7:46 pm


      You think the F-Word is more offensive than a racial slur? How silly when the F-Word has less impact than a racial slur.

    2. Esther
      April 24, 2015 at 2:36 pm

      Hollywood is doing all they can to indoctrinate our children with violence, sex and profanity. We can see the results
      in our social culture. They can claim that this is what sells, but the irony is that movies without these themes are
      far more successful than the X or R films. Conservatives have a lot of power if they would only use it. Don’t allow
      your children or yourself go to movies with this content. The power of the purse is in our hands. We don’t have
      to get 100%. Even a small amount of loss makes them nervous. The same is true in your purchasing power of
      banks, clothing, insurance, food, computers, etc. I put my money where my mouth is and try not to do business
      with anyone who supports Planned Parenthood or the homosexual agenda. If just 10% of us did that, we could
      make a HUGE difference. The excuse is that your effort wouldn’t make a difference, is why most people don’t even

    3. brandon
      April 24, 2015 at 1:53 am

      I’m surprised you guys weren’t upset when A Serbian Film played in theaters. The film has on screen instances of child rape and murder. Except they say during the actual child sex scenes they used dummies and stand ins and I pray to God that they are not lying about that. The film also includes graphic scenes of rape and torture of woman and when I say graphic you don’t want to know. There is a scene where a character wants to film “new born porn.” I’m serious! The movie ends with a character about to have intercourse with a dead child’s corpse.

      Even though it only had a limited theatrical release in the US I was still surprised I heard nothing from you guys. Because if you guys did do a protest or petition that would be one instance where I would be on your side. The director claims the film is a satire of the Serbian government. That is a straight out lie he just wanted to make a shocking movie for the sake of making a shocking movie. This is one film that probably should be banned because after you watch it you just feel disgusting. The MPAA rated it NC-17 when they probably should have rated it X. Walmart and other retailers sell it which is kind of scary. This is one film I think you should warn your members of because kids and teens often dare each other to watch it (without vomiting or turning it off.) That’s actually how my little brother and my 11 year old cousin saw it.

      What is your opinion?

      • Christopher Gildemeister
        April 28, 2015 at 9:30 am

        A Serbian Film received only a very limited theatrical release in the United States, largely limited to the “art theater” circuit. Because it was rated NC-17 (the MPAA’s replacement for the old “X” rating), and thus clearly was not targeted at children, the PTC didn’t feel it necessary to comment, much as we don’t comment on openly pornographic pay-per-view channels on cable: no one is forcing anyone to see or pay for such things, and the consumer has to deliberately seek it out and pay an extra fee (and, in the case of a theatrical movie, drive to a theater) in order to get it. We’re more concerned with things that can easily be seen by children, or which the entertainment industry forces everyone to fund as part of a “bundle,” whether they want to or not.

        Thank you very much though, Brandon, for bringing this film to our attention. We appreciate your helping to warn others about harmful media.

    4. brandon
      April 23, 2015 at 12:46 am

      It was the birth of the New Hollywood movement that retired the Hays Code. The New Hollywood movement was a very important moment in film history because it allowed film makers to have freedom to do different things. New Hollywood also has it’s share of classics; The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, 2001: a Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, Rosemary’s Baby, Easy Rider, The Wild Bunch, Apocalypse Now, Blazing Saddles, Cruising, Heaven’s Gate, Patton, A Clockwork Orange, Dirty Harry, The Godfather, American Graffiti, The Exorcist, and 100s more. The end of the Hays Code was not the end of classic and acclaimed films. Don’t get me wrong I like Hays Code Era films, but the New Hollywood Era is my personal favorite.

      • Christopher Gildemeister
        April 23, 2015 at 9:28 am

        But during the New Hollywood era, the MPAA was much more stringent and diligent about rating adult material as appropriate only for adults. Looking at your list, The Exorcist, The Godfather, A Clockwork Orange, Cruising, Blazing Saddles, Apocalypse Now, The Wild Bunch, Easy Rider, Rosemary’s Baby, Dirty Harry, and Bonnie and Clyde were all rated R. Today’s MPAA doesn’t do this. They’re essentially giving lots of movies that should be rated R a PG-13 rating to allow them to push age-inappropriate content at younger teens and kids.

        It’s also notable that Hollywood wasn’t afraid to make movies rated G back then — as witness Planet of the Apes and 2001: a Space Odyssey.

        And no offense Brandon, but if you think Heaven’s Gate is a classic, you haven’t watched it lately. :-)

        • Jonathan
          April 30, 2015 at 6:10 am

          It’s not that the MPAA was not afraid to give “Planet of the Apes” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” a G rating they gave it that rating because neither movie had any R rated content, plus the PG-13 rating wasn’t invented until the movie “Red Dawn.” Today the MPAA is actually really strict, watch the documentary “This film is not yet Rated” and you will see how many edits a filmmaker has to make just to get a movie from NC-17 to R and even a PG-13 rating.

          • Christopher Gildemeister
            May 4, 2015 at 10:01 am


            You’re right: the entire point is that in the past, Hollywood wasn’t afraid to MAKE G-rated movies with an intelligent story that could be enjoyed by adults. Apparently, the industry now feels that everything “adult” (or even aimed at teens) has to contain graphic sex and foul language.

            I have seen “This Film Is Not Yet Rated.” What that film — and the MPAA’s subsequent actions — prove is that, if a filmmaker is a big enough name and whines often enough, the MPAA will lower the rating on his or her film, no matter how graphic it is.

            • Moax429
              May 5, 2015 at 3:24 pm

              A good example of that was Martin Scorsese’s (ultra-sick) remake of “Scarface” in 1983.

              The MPAA rightfully gave that film an X rating (NC-17 wasn’t even thought of yet), but Scorsese “whined” loud enough that he had the rating appealed to R, without any cuts.

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