After years of getting flack from filmmakers and the public alike for the subjective (and influential) ratings they've assigned in the name of protecting America's youth from the content found in movies, the Motion Picture Association of America is out to win over their critics. Well, maybe "win over" is the wrong term, since it's fairly certain that as long as the ratings board continues to operate with, as The Los Angeles Times cheekily says, "all the transparency of Opus Dei," there will likely always be folks like documentarian Kirby Dick (This Film is Not Yet Rated) to scrutinize the organization of ten individuals who assign ratings to most films released stateside each year.
In an effort to unmask and "demystify" the public image of her organization, MPAA head and mother of two Joan Graves submitted to a brief Q&A with The L.A. Times to discuss, among other subjects, the kind of folks the MPAA chooses as their raters, how they cast their votes, and, well, not a whole lot else. Graves, speaking to The L.A. Times:
"We have 10 members, each of them parents, who serve on our board, usually for seven years. We try to have a mix from all over the country, from big cities and small towns, and we avoid people who have an agenda. After they watch a movie, a senior rater hands out ballots and the parents vote on what rating to assign to the film. It's majority rule. If the producer agrees with our assessment, the movie is certified and rated. If they disagree with us, they can take it to an appeals board made up of industry people."
The MPAA has also given its online presence a shiny new make-over (at http://filmratings.com/), where parents can now more easily find ratings information and folks can read up on the history of film censorship in America, spun as if censorship was the best thing to ever happen to art and freedom in the movies:
"From the early days of film censorship to a contemporary system committed to providing information and transparency about the content of films, the rating system remains a shining symbol of American artistic and creative freedom and a useful tool that maintains to this day the overwhelming approval of America's parents." (Read more here.)
I'm all for more transparency within this incredibly small, anonymous group of American parents who decide the ratings of over 700 feature films each year. I'm not a parent myself, but it's not like I'd want some 12-year-old watching Serbian Film unbeknownst to their parental units. (Granted, it's entirely possible that there are some really advanced 12-year-olds out there who could handle such material.) But is this new openness and Joan Graves's emergence as the relatable figurehead of the MPAA enough to win over any critics of the MPAA? And is censorship at any level as awesome as the MPAA proclaims it to be?