‘Fifty Shades’ Outrage Didn’t Match ‘Wolf of Wall Street,’ Says Ratings Board Chief

MPAA’s Joan Graves talks to TheWrap about sex and violence, explains how parental concerns differ by geography and offers Hollywood some advice

Concerned parents aimed a fusillade of fury at “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but it didn’t come close to the storm touched off by the similarly R-rated “The Wolf of Wall Street,” according to the head of the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) ratings board.

[‘The Wolf of Wall Street’] opened on Christmas Day and a lot of people wrongly assumed that it was a family film and brought the kids. Some even brought the grandparents,” Joan Graves, the head of the MPAA’s Classification and Rating Administration board, told TheWrap Tuesday.

“Most of the complaints we heard about ’50 Shades’ came before it was out, so that meant people were responding to what they had read in the book,” Graves said. “A lot of what was in the book wasn’t in the movie, and that’s all that we consider.”

Martin Scorsese’s saga about disgraced Wall Street party boy Jordan Belfort was filled with explicit sex and drug use, but none of that fazed Graves, who said that since she’s been on the job since 1988, she “might be a little jaded.”

“I see a lot more movies than your typical parent does,” said Graves, the only member of the board whose identity is known to the public. That’s just one of many factors she and the board consider as they seek to provide parents with the information they need to make informed choices about the movies their kids see.

Gauging parental attitudes can be tricky, she said, particularly since there are regional differences in how racy movie material is viewed.

“The South is concerned about using the Lord’s name in vain. They’d like to see the improper use of ‘Jesus Christ’ draw an automatic R,” Graves said. “In the Midwest it’s the nudity and sex, and on the coasts there is greater interest in the violence.”

It’s a tricky balancing act, but Graves said the board is comprised of members from various areas and backgrounds and they give it their best shot.

Directors’ contracts often include a requirement that they deliver a film that will receive a particular ratings she said, and that is making things easier these days.

The advice Graves offers filmmakers, studios and distributors is that if you want a certain rating, do what you need to do on the front end.

“The worst thing that happens is for a director to have to cut up a film, because at that point it is his offering, his art,” she said. “If there are questions about certain scenes, try to address it during the script and pre-production periods, so you don’t spend time and money that you don’t need to.”