The only people who talk to the raters on a weekly basis work at the movie studios. No outside filmmakers have that kind of access. Well-known directors can go in front of the ratings board and talk about what rating their movie should get, while independent filmmakers can only submit their film and, eventually, if they're lucky, get a phone call explaining how screwed they are.
"... so you'll have to cut the lesbian make-out scene, and the other raters really felt like there should be a talking dog."
Many films have just three or four raters, making an already skewed rating even, uh, skewdier? When there's a tie vote, Graves breaks it. She's like the vice president on Senate votes, except with a little more power. And even then, the head of the MPAA (currently former senator Chris Dodd) has absolute veto power over the rating. Does your film feature a guy who looks kind of like Chris Dodd getting a well-deserved wedgie? Boom: NC-17.
No matter how small you make his penis.
Don't like it? Of course you can appeal. Just head on over to the appeals board. One problem: It turns out that almost every member of the appeals board is an executive of one of the major studios or theater chains. They're not about to break rank for your upstart little indie film about chubby old white guys getting their underwear yanked up their crack. There is no objectivity to the process. There are two independents on the board and two members of the clergy who sit in on the films as well (but have no voting power), but other than that, it's all people who work for the studios and theaters. You'd have a better chance of receiving justice from a literal court of kangaroos (and those bastards are vicious).
Studies found that, while PG-13 violence was on par with R-rating violence, sexual tolerance for PG-13 films was much lower than for R. Sometimes the number of "thrusts" shown during a sex scene was the deciding factor in the rating. Picture that: a room full of prudish middle-aged white folks carefully counting every single thrust until one of them shouts, "Eleven! That's NC-17." It almost makes the ridiculous double standard worthwhile.
We can only hope there's somebody there counting the number of "fucks," too.
Because even if there's no sex or swearing in a gay film, it still means a nigh-automatic R rating. And what little sex that does lube up and slip by is always from the straight-male perspective. The MPAA will cut just about any female sexuality beyond "get topless and dance around for the menfolk" out of a film. Name a recent movie with sex in it and, 99 times out of 100, the act is filmed with a clear male perspective. When films do try to get scenes from the female perspective, such as the recent Charlie Countryman, that's the first scene the MPAA will say has to go to avoid a higher rating. What is so terrifying about women and sex to these people? Did the female orgasm kill their parents or something?
"Oh, don't be silly. The female orgasm is a myth."
Back in the 1970s, there were only two ratings for more mature films: PG and R. Then the MPAA brought out a new rating in the 1980s: PG-13. This new rating allowed for more violence, but still kept the sex to a minimum, and the strange schism between boobies and stabbings began. But why even bother? Wasn't the system working before? Yes, but the MPAA is like any lobbying agency -- they need to get laws passed that are favorable for film studios. By harshly rating movies with sexual content and appeasing lawmakers wary of such sexual morality issues, they get the support of Congress to pass, among other things, certain intellectual property laws. The whole "The MPAA is there to protect the children" idea is just PR; it's really an "I stab your back, you stab mine" situation (tender scratching was deemed too intimate).
Anzor Mizaushev/iStock/Getty Images
Kirby's 2005 documentary shook the MPAA up. They'd been comfortable in anonymity for so long, and then they found themselves reviewing a documentary starring themselves. The MPAA held a press conference after This Film Is Not Yet Rated came out, promising to come clean about their membership. They haven't made good on that promise in the nearly a decade since. They never did state who their members are, and Graves and Dodd are still the only faces of the system. They are not exactly ... friendly faces.
LA Times, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The kind of faces you just want to hit with a brick, you know?
In fact, the MPAA has no meaningful plans whatsoever to change the system for the foreseeable future. They're focusing their efforts on mildly tweaking the information in the ratings display, but not anything to do with the ratings themselves. That's why recent films such as The King's Speech and Blue Valentine have been given "outrageous ratings." A few theaters have seen how screwed the whole system is, and in Blue Is the Warmest Color's case, several just decided to ignore the rating and show the film anyway. There are presumably blacked-out MPAA helicopters on their way over as we speak. And homosexual content is still given higher ratings -- even if there are no sexual moments.
"There! Those two totally shared a moment! R!"
As long as six giant studios are making 90 percent of our movies (and making decisions for 100 percent of them), they'll always keep a tight rein on what gets released, where, and how. We wish the American public could see exactly how screwed the whole system is, but there's no way that sort of depravity is coming in under an XXX.
Evan V. Symon is a workshop moderator and interview setter-upper guy at Cracked. He also helped contribute to the De-Textbook.
Be sure to check out what happens when the MPAA goes nuts in If Classic Christmas Movies Were Rated R.
Related Reading: Cracked's made a bit of a habit of talking to people with interesting experiences, including a former Biggest Loser contestant and Mormon missionary with some candid words on that experience. We spoke with a woman who was raised in a Christian fundamentalist cult and a 911 dispatcher on just how terrible that job can be. If you've got a story to share with Cracked, message us here.