At the Movies

04.16.13

MPAA Adjusts Movie Ratings System in Wake of Newtown and Boston Tragedies

In the wake of the Newtown and Boston Marathon tragedies, the Motion Picture Association of America decided to adjust the ratings system to better accommodate parents.

In the wake of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that claimed the lives of 26 people, Vice President Joe Biden met with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in early January to discuss the issue of gun violence in America. While some Obama administration officials reportedly wanted the MPAA to curb violence in movies, MPAA chief and former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) remained steadfast, arguing that Hollywood would “vehemently” oppose any form of policing when it comes to onscreen violence.

“What we don't want to get involved with is content regulation,” Dodd told The Hollywood Reporter. “We're vehemently opposed to that. We have a free and open society that celebrates the First Amendment."

Dodd was joined at the meeting by Comcast executive vice president David L. Cohen, Directors Guild of America executive director Jay Roth, National Association of Theatre Owners president John Fithian, and others. In lieu of “content regulation,” the group released a statement saying it would pursue efforts to “confront the complex challenge of gun violence in America” by giving parents “the tools necessary to make the right viewing decisions for their families.”

At the annual National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) convention, otherwise known as CinemaCon, on Tuesday, the day after a pair of bomb blasts triggered by an unknown entity terrorized the Boston Marathon—claiming the lives of three people and injuring some 170 more—Dodd and NATO President John Fithian unveiled their initiative to encourage parents to make educated decisions about their children’s movie-viewing habits.

“Throughout its existence, the goal of the rating system has never changed: to inform parents and allow them to make their own decisions, considering their children’s sensibilities and unique sensitivities,” announced Dodd at The Colosseum inside Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas. “In 1990, we took a significant step to advance that goal, introducing rating descriptors for every film that is rated PG or higher, giving parents a snapshot of the content in each movie that leads to its rating.

“The campaign we are announcing today focuses on these descriptors, giving parents the information they need to navigate the rating system and movies coming to their theaters. We’ve produced something we believe you will be proud to showcase at your theaters.”

According to the event’s press release: “Dodd noted that the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) of the MPAA has renewed and improved the rating block to make the descriptors more prominent as well as creating educational materials, including a PSA and posters, to be showcased in theaters across the country. The campaign urges parents to ‘Check the Box’ (the ratings box) so they can learn more about the content of a movie before determining if it is appropriate for their children.”

Earlier this year, following the devastating Newtown massacre, many interest groups were calling on Hollywood to enforce further restrictions on violent content—in particular gun violence—in movies. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was out promoting his shoot-’em-up film The Last Stand, spoke out against such regulation.

“(Newtown) is such a horrific tragedy, but we have to separate out what is in the movies—which is pure entertainment—and what is out there in reality,” Schwarzenegger told Fox News. “When you have a tragedy like that and you lose so many lives, I think you owe it to society to do everything you can and look at everything—dealing with mental health, parenting in America, are the schools safe, and do we have the right safety features in place, and should we look at gun laws again, and look if there are any loopholes that can be closed.”

Editor's Note: The campaign to educate parents about movie ratings was announced on Tuesday, April 16, not Monday, as was previously reported.