America's film ratings board, which assigns the G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 ratings to films, purports to operate in the public interest. But in fact, it is secretive and tightly controlled, run by and for the benefit of the six major Hollywood film studios that together control 95 percent of the U.S. film business.
The trade organization for these studios, the Motion Picture Association of America, oversees the film ratings board and the board chair reports directly to MPAA president Dan Glickman. This board ensures that studio films (which tend to be more violent) get less-restrictive ratings so that they can reach larger audiences, while films produced by the studios' competitors, independent and foreign film companies (whose films tend to include more adult sexuality) receive ratings that limit the distribution of their films.
To prevent public scrutiny of this self-serving ratings system, the MPAA has created what is perhaps the most-secretive board operating in this country today, even though its mandate is to inform the public. Yet there are no publicly available records of its proceedings, and its members' identities have been kept secret for nearly 30 years, until I revealed them in my documentary "This Film Is Not Yet Rated."
The MPAA claims the raters' anonymity protects them from industry influence. But our investigation revealed that the only people who have regular contact with these sequestered raters are executives from the film studios.
Equally disturbing is the fact that this board reserves its most extreme acts of censorship for films that include gay sex -- they receive even more restrictive ratings than similarly shot scenes with straight sex. This homophobic bias serves the studios' interests well in Washington. By aggressively censoring films with adult sexuality and in particular those with gay sex, the MPAA panders to the right wing in Congress, which has in turn rewarded the MPAA by passing a number of particularly onerous intellectual property laws that have proved very lucrative for the film studios.
Kirby Dick directed "This Film Is Not Yet Rated"
Hollywood is the marketing industry par excellence. Along with the MPAA and its publicity arm, it has managed to convince Congress and the public that the film industry is this country's golden business, entertaining us all while exporting the American ideal worldwide and adding billions to the U.S. balance of trade. What gets lost in this boosterism is that, like in every other industry, Hollywood's pursuit of the bottom line often has negative consequences for society.
One of the most serious consequences, as explored in my film, results from the film studios' long-standing collusion with the Pentagon in the production of war films. To use (without charge) military hardware such as tanks, planes and aircraft carriers, the studios allow the Pentagon to vet their scripts and remove any negative portrayal of the military or its undertakings.
Dozens of films critical of the military or of war have not been made because the filmmakers couldn't obtain Pentagon approval to use military hardware, even though this hardware is owned by the public and should not be available for films with only one particular political agenda.