On the eve of the wide release of "The Hunger Games," the debate on whether the Motion Picture Association of America appropriately gave the film a PG-13 rating is heating up.
Some argue that rating of the fictional, post-apocalyptic teen-genocide film makes no sense given the 'R' rating the MPAA slapped on the Weinstein Company-distributed "Bully," a documentary about bullying among children -- a very real problem facing kids today.
The word lawsuit has already been thrown around. Attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson of Proposition 8 fame had a stern warning for the MPAA.
"You can kill kids, you can maim them, you can torture them and still get a PG-13 rating, but if they say a couple of bad words, you blame them. I hope, for heaven’s sake, that they find some rational basis before we have to sue them to revise the rating system.”
Apparently, "Bully" got the "no one under 17 admitted without a parent" rating because it contains f-bombs.
The plot of "The Hunger Games" centers around teenagers killing each other for survival. The gory slaying of minors takes place on live television for the inhabitants of the unrealistic world to witness -- including watching a 12-year old get slaughtered by other teenagers.
In stark contrast, the documentary "Bully," directed by Lee Hirsch, was narrowly scrutinized and got an 'R' rating in accordance with the organization's strict guidelines regarding the amount of profanity the film contains.
The MPAA ratings panel is made up of parents and others not affiliated with the film industry. The group does not reveal these individuals' names or qualifications.
Film ratings "do not assess the value or social worth of a movie or censor any aspect of a film," the MPAA said, " they simply provide clear information to parents (and all interested moviegoers) about a film's content."
According to the MPAA website, this is the "clear information" the ratings provide:
PG-13 — Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13. A PG-13 rating is a sterner warning by the Rating Board to parents to determine whether their children under age 13 should view the motion picture, as some material might not be suited for them.
R — Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures.
The PG-13 rating suggests "parents are strongly cautioned" about a film's content for anyone 13 and under (implying even younger children may watch), but ultimately teens can purchase a ticket themselves and be allowed into the movie.
An 'R' rating means children under 17 are not allowed to attend without a parent in tow. The MPAA goes further and states it is not suitable for parents to bring their young children to R-rated movies.
The MPAA has reiterated that ultimately it is up to the parents to decide if they will expose their own children to R-rated content.
"Unfortunately, there is a misconception about the R rating of this film limiting the audience to adults. This is not true. The R rating and description of “some language” for 'Bully' does not mean that children cannot see the film. As with any movie, parents will decide if they want their children to see 'Bully.'”
So which is it? Should parents take their kids to watch an R-rated film in spite of the strong warning and restriction, or is it not appropriate at all as stated in the guidelines?
Issues regarding the guidelines the MPAA works from to rate films have been criticized before.
Some claim they are outdated and don't take into account a film's message. Other's believe some films "will never get an adverse rating no matter what's in them," Parents Television Council representative Dan Isett said.
A petition is currently making the rounds on the Internet to change "Bully's" current 'R' rating. Some of the more well-known signatures belong to actress Meryl Streep and actor Johnny Depp.
In today's society, it is a well known fact that teenagers go to the movies alone -- without parents -- since it is one of the few safe and affordable recreational activities available to this age group.
Simply put, a PG-13 rating means a 13-year-old can go to the theater with friends to watch "The Hunger Games" and see gruesome, bloody battles between teenagers (noting the violence is likely something they've already seen in video games and other films) with or without a parent.
But this same kid isn't able to sit in a theater with those same friends and watch "Bully" because of a few expletives.
The ratings systems is becoming an archaic set of guidelines which are not consistently used.
Ratings do influence the potential audience a film will get, and can therefore affect their success or failure, monetarily speaking. But, money shouldn't always be Tinsel Town's only concern or the basis of a film's success or failure.
The broad reach a powerful film like "Bully" could have may be potentially thwarted by the restrictive rating.
The MPAA needs to reevaluate why "Bully" merits an 'R' rating in the face of a growing concern for the more moderate PG-13 rating it granted the violent "The Hunger Games."
Before there's an outcry about how parents need to parent and simply go with their kids to watch this particular 'R' rated film, I agree they should, but for different reasons than the four f-bombs as the MPAA's narrow guidelines dictate.
It would be better if parents watched "Bully" so they could discuss with their children this serious and dangerous behavior afflicting our youth -- not just to cover their ears when f@#! is uttered by minors in the film.
If the ratings issue doesn't lose steam in the wake of the blockbuster box office "Hunger" is expected to draw, then "Bully" might have a chance to cast a wider net and make an impact of a different sort: to raise public consciousness about the real hostility kids are inflicting on other kids -- bullying.
Do you think "The Hunger Games" has an adequate rating taking into consideration the degree of violence and age of the perpetrators? And should the R rating for "Bully" be softened so that a younger audience can watch without needing a parent sitting next to them covering their ears?