IFC Center Rejects MPAA's 'R' Rating On Snowden Documentary, Says It Should Be 'Essential Viewing'

from the informed-citizenry dept

Many people still have no idea that the MPAA “rating system” for movies is a totally voluntary system. Any official system like that would be unconstitutional as a violation of the First Amendment (which is why a legal attempt to rate video games got killed by the Supreme Court). It’s pretty rare for theaters to ignore MPAA ratings — though it does very rarely happen. Back in 2012, we noted that AMC theaters defied the MPAA by letting students see the documentary Bully, even though the MPAA wanted to rate it as “R” (which restricts anyone 17 and under from seeing the film without an adult).

Now, IFC Center (a major independent theater in New York) has decided to defy the MPAA’s ridiculous rating system again — for the documentary on Ed Snowden by Laura Poitras, Citizenfour. Tommy Collison on Twitter drew our attention to this after posting a photograph of the sign posted to the window of the theater:

IFC has a bit more detail on its own website, noting that the theater believes that the MPAA is wrong in how it chose to rate both Citizenfour and the Richard Linklater film Boyhood, saying that it “feels that both films are appropriate viewing for mature adolescents” and will let them in accordingly.

The absolute ridiculousness of the MPAA’s rating system is well documented. It’s done in secret, using standards that make no sense, and are often broken for no clear reason. More than a couple of curses will get you an “R” even though plenty of sexual content is fine. If you giggle about marijuana? That’s an R rating. The members of the rating board aren’t known, and even though the MPAA insists they match a certain profile, investigations have shown that the MPAA frequently breaks its own rules for members of the panel. The ratings board regularly screws over indie filmmakers. If you really want to know how ridiculous the system is, just watch the documentary, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, which was in fact given a rating by the MPAA: an NC-17 rating, normally reserved for things like porn (which, yes, is in the film, but only to show what types of content get an NC-17 rating).

It’s great to see at least some theaters standing up to this sort of ridiculousness — and hopefully more will follow suit.

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Companies: ifc, mpaa

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Comments on “IFC Center Rejects MPAA's 'R' Rating On Snowden Documentary, Says It Should Be 'Essential Viewing'”

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17 Comments
jupiterkansas (profile) says:

People act as if it’s against the law to break the MPAA’s rules. The whole system is entirely voluntary and theatre chains should defy the MPAA’s power if they feel it’s appropriate. After all, it directly affects their bottom line most of all.

It would be awesome if theatre chains (and streaming services) adopted the rating system provided by Common Sense Media. Their ratings are far more reasonable and more detailed than what the MPAA produces. The only reason they aren’t used is the MPAA ratings are so embedded into the filmgoing culture.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: UHF

Where is this?

AA (Adult Accompaniment)-14 ratings are given to movies released in Canada. It is equivalent to PG-13 ratings in the US.

I agree with Mark though, how the movie got PG-13/AA-14 ratings is beyond me, other than it was an “indie” movie and thus didn’t have the big bucks behind it to “fix” the problems.

This film is not yet rated (which I second as a great and well worth movie to see how the system doesn’t work) goes into great detail about how indie movies get screwed…

Anonymous Coward says:

so how long before the MPAA brings a law suit after this movie chain then? did it not know that it can be penalised to the tune of $150,000 per screening? did it not know that the staff and management can be thrown into jail for the lifetime of the copyright + 70 years?

above is just a load of bullshit, but then so are all the ridiculous rules the MPAA try to bring in!! all done on the backs of politicians who ignore the people they are supposed to be looking after, preferring to have ‘another blank check’ to stick in the bank!!

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“a list of independent films that are unreleased in the UK through refusal of a rating despite suitability for audiences?”

Why would that prove the well-known fact that the BBFC treats films differently depending on their source? Are you under the impression that the only thing that provides inequality is whether or not they’re released?

Anyway, I may be biased as a horror/cult film fan with a predilection for smaller DVD labels, but it’s pretty obvious how different the experience of, say, getting the new Hunger Games certificated to the studio’s preferred rating rather than someone trying to get out a low budget movie that will only sell a couple of thousand copies if they’re lucky. Here’s one account, although there’s many more available – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/pat-higgins/bbfc-killing-independent-film_b_5000755.html

If you want to read more, this site has a huge number of articles about various BBFC decisions – http://melonfarmers.co.uk/bwi.htm among other censorship issues. Some do detail historical decisions and many are a little over-the-top (many of the writers are against censorship of any kind), but there’s a lot of interesting detail available over there.

Now, don’t get me wrong – the BBFC has changed significantly, and changed for the better over the years. But the idea that they treat independent producers and studios the same way is laughable from most of what I read from those at the bottom end. Better than it used to be, perhaps, but not equal.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The example your first link points to is nothing to do with the BBFC and everything to do with those responsible for the Great Firewall of Britain. Also, the second link does point to independent films having cuts required more often than Hollywood movies, true, but that’s because they outnumber movies quite substantially. Research fail, much?

Anonymous Coward says:

The “rules” mean little for films that fall into the propaganda category, and Citizenfour certainly qualifies. But while some (non-government approved) propaganda films get the book thrown at them by America’s self-appointed censors, establishment-backed propaganda gets a free pass.

For instance, the only time in my life that I can recall ever seeing full-frontal nudity on commercial network television was in two propaganda hit pieces, 1977’s “Roots” and 1993’s “Schindler’s List” — for everything else, an entirely different set of rules apply. (Conversely, criticism of “Roots” and “Schindler’s List” gets branded as “hate speech” — therefore, censorship)

The same hypocrisy is demonstrated whenever it comes to the issue of whether pictures of dead human bodies are fit for American television. When “bad guys” (like German Nazis) kill people, then it’s perfectly OK to show bodies. But when “good guys” (like Israeli Jews) kill people, then it’s absolutely not OK to show bodies.

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