a. Motion Picture Association of America's Rating System

Part: 
Four
Chapter: 
8

An overview of the Motion Picture Association of America's (MPAA) rating system provides an initial perspective as to the content of some sexually explicit films. The rating system was established on November 1, 1968, by the MPAA, the National Theater Owners and the International Film Importers and Distributors of America.[1797] The rating system evolved because the motion picture industry recognized that it had an obligation to the parents and children of America to provide information about its films in advance of their viewing.[1798]

The Motion Picture Association of America has established five rating categories:

  1. G:    "General Audiences-All ages admitted."[1799]
  2. PG:   "Parental Guidance suggested; some material may not be suitable for children."[1800]
  3. PG-13:      "Parents are strongly cautioned to give special guidance for attendance of children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for younger children."[1801]
  4. R:    "Restricted, under seventeen requires accompanying parent or guardian."[1802]
  5. X:    "No one under seventeen admitted."[1803]

Some of the language in "G" rated movies may go beyond polite conversation. The violence in these films is minimal and there are no nudity or sex scenes.[1804] In a "PG" film, there may be some profanity and violence. There are no explicit sex scenes but brief nudity may be present.[1805]

The film's use of one of the harsher sexually derived words, though only as an expletive, will require the rating board to initially issue that film at least a "PG-13" rating.[1806]

If the same sexually derived word is used in a sexually explicit context, the film will receive an "R" rating.[1807] More than one expletive in a film results in an initial "R" rating.[1808] An "R" rated film contains some explicit material relating to language, violence, nudity, sexuality, drug use, or other content.[1809] However, explicit sex is not found in "R" rated films.[1810]

No children are admitted to an "X" rated movie. "X" rated films may contain brutal or sexually related language, explicit sex or excessive and sadistic violence.[1811] A film which is not submitted for a rating by the MPAA cannot, without authorization, use any rating except "X".[1812]

Some producers of sexually explicit movies attach an "X" rating to their product without ever submitting the film to the MPAA. In the opinion of MPAA President, Jack Valenti, this is because the producers have assured themselves of the character of their movie and feel the rating is unnecessary.[1813] Moreover, many of these films are produced for the "X" rated movie consumer market.

All advertisements and publicity material must also be submitted to the MPAA for approval prior to the public release of the film.[1814] This includes, but is not limited to, newspaper, magazine, radio and television advertisements, as well as previews of coming attractions.[1815] Once a rating is determined and assigned, it must then appear on all approved advertisements.[1816] The MPAA ratings may be displayed only on versions of the film, video or advertising that are identical to the one rated by the MPAA board.[1817] Any violation of this rule will be met with "cease and desist" demands and, if necessary, legal action by the MPAA.[1818]

The scope of the rating system has recently expanded.[1819] In 1984, the fourteen major home video companies announced that the MPAA ratings given to films for theatrical release will automatically appear on video cassette and disc versions identical to the rated theater version.[1820] This agreement formalized the procedures most home video companies have used since the beginning of the industry.[1821]

Since its inception through September 30, 1985, the MPAA rating board had rated 7,036 feature films.[1822] Table 1 sets forth the number of films which have been rated in each category.

Table 1

Rating Number Percentage
G
PG
PG-13**
R
X***
900
2523
60
3190
363
12.9
35.9
.8
45.2
5.2

* This Table covers the period from the beginning of the MPAA to September 30, 1985.

** Introduced in July, 1984.

*** This number represents a small portion of films advertised as "X" rated. The remaining "X" rated films are self-designated and are not reflected in the 363 figure.

The sexually explicit film industry has established its own structure and guidelines. The Adult Film Association of America (AFAR) represents two hundred of the producers, distributors and exhibitors of the sexually explicit film and video industries.[1823] The AFAR credo states:

  1. That films of adult subject matter will be produced for and exhibited to adult audiences and that persons not of legal age will not be admitted.
  2. That the definition of an "adult" is that designation set by the constituted authorities of the community, but in no event any person under the age of eighteen years.
  3. That we will produce and exhibit only films that are in conformity with the Free Speech provisions of the Constitution of the United States of America.
  4. That we will respect the privacy of the general public in our advertising and public displays.
  5. That we in no manner will condone, produce, or exhibit child pornography in any form.[1824]

John Weston, counsel to the AFAA, testified that films made with unconsenting adults and children, as well as material depicting bestiality and excrement would be considered off limits by the AFAA.[1825] Unlike the MPAA, there is presently no enforcement mechanism to ensure that the above procedures are followed.[1826]

Notes

  1. Los Angeles Hearing. Vol. II, Jack Valenti, p. 55B.
  2. Id., p. 55C.
  3. Id., p. 55H.
  4. Id.
  5. Id.
  6. Id., p. 55K.
  7. Id.
  8. Id., p. 55H.
  9. Id., p. 55I.
  10. Id.
  11. Id.
  12. Id.
  13. Id., p. 55K.
  14. Id.
  15. Id.
  16. Id., p. 55M.
  17. Id., pp. 12-13.
  18. Id., p. 55N.
  19. Id.
  20. Id.
  21. Id., p. 55M.
  22. Id.
  23. Id., p. 55P.
  24. Id.
  25. Id.
  26. Id., p. 55L.
  27. Los Angeles Hearing, Vol. I, Les Baker, p. 203B-2.
  28. Id. at 203B-3.
  29. Los Angeles Hearing, Vol. I, John Weston, pp. 174-75. See also, Los Angeles Hearing, Vol. I, Les Baker, pp. 203B-4-203B-5.
  30. Los Angeles Hearing, Vol. I, John Weston, pp. 182-83.