Censorship in the Film Industry

By technofunkie

Censorship and Sexuality in the film industry


“the MPAA is basically supervising the vulgarization of America by hoisting all this violence on us with its approval of the R-rating while at the same time restricting any mature or thought provoking look at sexuality”.
-Roger Ebert


Films have been censored and restricted since almost the creation of the film industry. In almost every first world country, there is a censor board in place to rate and monitor films for the protection of the population. In the U.S., it is called the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). This is something that parents rely on to keep their children from viewing material which is not appropriate and may be damaging. While the MPAA is just a single ratings board, it serves as a good example as most other boards operate in a similar fashion.

The MPAA is currently comprised of theater owners, high power movie executives, as well as other members of the movie industry. While the members do have many other priorities such as cracking down on film piracy, their main role in the film industry is their ratings board. It is their only role which actually affects the average movie goers as they are the only ratings board that matter or make a difference.

Each film board, depending on which area you are in, rates their films differently; the MPAA goes as follows; G, PG, R and NC-17. Their NC-17 rating means almost certain commercial suicide for any film which happens to receive it. If a film receives it and the film makers decide not to cut the film, then it will almost never get a large scale release and won’t be carried in many film stores. The rating system seems to be a good idea to most. No one will disagree that a child shouldn’t be seeing films which include extreme violence and sex. The idea behind film ratings is that they give parents the ability to make informed decisions on what their child should be able to watch, as they do at home with movies, video games and books. This would not necessarily count as censorship as it simply gives parents a more educated and informed basis to what they restrict their kids from watching. The problem, however, is that the system does not work like this. The MPAA’s ratings are used by the theater to decide, for the parents, what their viewers can watch. If a parent decides that an R rated film is appropriate for their 16 year old child to watch, the child still cannot see it as the theater will not let them in.

While most will agree that there has to be some sort of restriction set in place so that children do not view films that could be damaging to them, the system that is currently in place is inherently flawed. The system works as follows: G means it is acceptable for anyone to watch. PG means parental guidance is suggested. PG-13 means it is not appropriate for anyone under 13. It can feature violence and vulgar language such as the F word but only once and it cannot be referring to sex. The R rating is the highest rating that you will see in theaters for the most part. It can feature graphic violence, sex and swearing. The R rating restricts people under 17 from seeing the film if not accompanied by an adult.

Much of the problem caused by the MPAA is the NC-17 rating. It is the highest rating a film can receive and it means that the film will almost certainly not be getting a wide release. The studio may appeal its decision, or re-edit and submit a toned down version. A huge flaw of this rating is the extremely negative connotation which the films receives when getting that rating. While this may seem to be no problem at all as many believe that if a film receives that rating it deserves it, unfortunately this is not the case in many situations. An example is how an extremely violent and gory film such as Hostel or Saw which feature people being tortured for the majority of the movie and feature no redeeming value, only get an R rating and films dealing with sexuality will often get NC-17 ratings. These violent films are made as they are because the studio knows that kids will flock to them. Many of these are mean-spirited and negative. They push the R-rating to the limits for the sake of amusement. Now it is possible for someone to argue that films that are exploitive about sex and nudity, such as American Pie, are released regularly with PG-13 and R-ratings. These are not the films that are in question; it is the films that tackle sexuality in mature and realistic ways that are the ones which are targeted by the film board. Parents may think that this is a good thing, but many times these films are beneficial for teenagers to view and it’s up to the parents to make the decision, not the MPAA.

Y Tu Mama Tambien, a critically acclaimed Mexican film about two boys going on a road trip and discovering their sexuality and themselves, is a good example of films which should be viewed by teenagers. It is a film which is important on many levels. One level is that it’s a study into the different social classes of Mexico, rich Mexico and poor Mexico. On another level it’s about two realistic teenagers discovering their sexuality and friendship. That film received the NC-17 rating upon release, this restricted teenagers from viewing it. It was up to the film-makers to make the decision of releasing it unrated which damages its release heavily. Many critics spoke out about their outrage at a film like this having no chance of receiving anything lower than NC-17, yet in the words of Richard Roeper in commenting on Y Tu Mama Tambien’s release, “a film like Blade 2 can splatter the screen with blood and received an R-rating”.


It is hard to figure out why there is this complete acceptance to violence with no message, while discussion of sexuality is completely frowned upon. It is possible that it is due to the society we live in currently, as when we turn on the news we see extreme images of violence. It is however a sad realization as this moral standpoint is completely opposite to what it should be. If it is due to our exposure to real world violence, then the violence which should be allowed is that of violence with a message, films which are violent for a reason, such as Schindler’s List. Yet films such as 300, which is essentially a 117 minute fight scene that features a 585 on screen body count, only gets an R-rating. It does feature several scenes of sexuality but none of these scenes are realistic. They are all stylized.


A film with frank and realistic sex, such as The Dreamers, can and almost always gets a higher rating then a film with stylized and even most of the time longer sex scenes. It is not always just frank sexuality that garners a higher rating. Films which deal with homosexuality, or any form of sexual expression that is not considered the norm, almost always raise a higher flag. By not allowing any form of realistic sex on screen and allowing huge amounts of violence, they are making violence seem normal and sex seem bad. It is also giving kids and teenagers unnatural views of sex as they are not viewing realistic sexual expression on the screen, only that of films like Eurotrip.

The system the MPAA uses to rate their films is completely flawed. On one level it is desensitizing kids, to a point where people aren’t shocked by extreme violence. By giving violent films R-ratings and PG-13 ratings, we’re giving kids the impression violence is a normal thing. This comes to be a huge problem as the popularity of shock horror has exploded. The more gore and violence the MPAA lets by in R rated films, the more people get used to it. This means that essentially desensitization will in turn make films more violent. Take the “torture porn” series, Saw, for example. As each film is released, it is considerably more violent and shocking than its predecessors. They are by description, an hour and a half of people being tortured till death, and these are films that are released with R-ratings, while films like Y Tu Mama Tambien have to be released unrated.

Roger Ebert, one of the world’s most respected and well known film reviewers, constantly speaks out against the MPAA. In his review of the film Y Tu Mama Tambien he stated that, “the MPAA is basically supervising the vulgarization of America by hoisting all this violence on us with its approval of the R-rating while at the same time restricting any mature or thought provoking look at sexuality”.

It is not only the U.S. which relies on a flawed and negatively restrictive system, Canada has fallen victim to these boards as well. In Canada each province carries its own film ratings board which is run by the provincial government. The Ontario Film Review Board has a similar rating system to the MPAA. The ratings it can give a film are, G, PG, 14a, 18a, and R. R being the slightly less harsh equivalent to NC-17, less harsh as it can still get a large release. Although in Ontario, it is very rare for a film to receive R.

While the Canadian system of ratings does have its improvements over the MPAA’s system, it does, however, have one extremely important negative aspect to it. The MPAA can restrict many people from viewing films by giving it the NC-17 rating, it cannot however ban it. And this is where the Canadian system is completely flawed, as it has the ability to ban films as it is a government run agency. In a land that prides itself on free expression, it is interesting that it can censor what we watch. They fall into the same trap of constantly restricting films with actual film merit. An example of this is when in 2001, the Ontario Film Board banned the film Fat Girl from release. Fat Girl, is a film by French feminist director Catherine Breillat. The film board banned it due to its depiction of teenage sexual activity, another example of an intelligent and honest discussion of sex and its meaning being punished by the film boards. The board later overturned its decision and let the film be released two years later when its initial decision caused the studio to fight its banning. Roger Ebert, once again speaking against film rating boards, had this to say about the Ontario Film Board’s banning on Fat Girl, “Fat Girl which has been banned in Ontario, Canada illustrates the curious principle that censors target the best work, they don’t usually ban the bad ones.”


While no rating system will ever be perfect, we cannot just live with the current system which allows for the government to decide what we can or cannot watch. These film boards may be causing more harm in the long run by helping the desensitization of violence to children and making sex seem like an abnormal and bad thing. Parents need to be aware that their children have easy access to extremely violent and mean-spirited movies and are being censored from seeing films that may help there development.

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Censorship in the Film Industry

Created: Jan 15, 2010

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