‘Tillman Story’ Loses Appeal Over ‘R’ Rating

One week after a Holocaust doc loses, Afghanistan-set film suffers the same fate

The movie was different, but the outcome was the same.

“The Tillman Story,” an acclaimed documentary about football-player-turned-soldier Pat Tillman, has lost its appeal to have the Motion Picture Association of America overturn the “R” rating it had been given for language.The Tillman Story poster

The ruling came exactly one week after the award-winning Holocaust documentary “A Film Unfinished” also lost in its attempt to have its “R” changed to a “PG-13.”

Both films appealed on the grounds that their subject matter made them historically important documents that deserved to be shown in schools and viewed by teens who might not have access if the films were released with “R” ratings.

“The language in this film is not gratuitous,” said director Amir Bar-Lev in a Weinstein Company press release issued before the appeal took place. “I think this is how many people would react when faced with the unthinkable.  Giving this film an ‘R’ rating prevents young people from seeing this film; the very people who should be exposed to a great American like Pat Tillman.”

The language for which the film was flagged includes the last words spoken by Tillman as he was being fired upon by American troops: “I’m Pat F—ing Tillman!”

Bar-Lev and producer John Battsek presented their case on Thursday morning, after their film was screened before the MPAA’s appeals board in the organization’s San Fernando Valley headquarters. The board is made up of major-studio executives, and representatives from film exhibition companies.

The industry insiders who comprise the board, though, are reportedly asked by the MPAA to view films from the perspective of parents.

(The initial ratings board is made up of anonymous parents of school-age children.)

Six years ago, in a similar case to "The Tillman Story," the Iraq-set documentary “Gunner Palace" won an appeal to overturn an “R” rating based on the film's language. “It helped us that [then MPAA head] Jack Valenti had gone on record defending the violence and the language in ‘Saving Private Ryan,’” that film’s director, Michael Tucker, told theWrap.

“The initial rating seemed to be based on very strict rules with no thought of context, but I felt like the appeals board was there to consider context and the community standards.”

In the Valenti era, filmmakers who appealed were not allowed to cite precedent or mention other films, but that rule was relaxed under Valenti’s successor, Dan Glickman.

In recent years, ratings appeals have become infrequent; it’s extremely rare to have two in as many weeks.

Last year, Universal’s Vince Vaughan comedy “Couples Retreat” and the low-budget Patrick Warburton/Andy Dick film “Rock Slyde” both won on appeal and had their ratings reduced from "R" to "PG-13." The vampire film “Shadowland” also appealed its "R rating," lost, and was released in an unrated version.