As a new study finds that violence in PG-13 movies is through the roof, and Harvey Weinstein fights another R rating, we have to ask: Will our ratings system ever get it right?
A study in the journal Pediatrics, published online today, reveals that gun violence in PG-13 movies has more than tripled since 1985, the first full year the rating was introduced, and that recently, the rate of gun violence has even surpassed that in R-rated movies.
That obviously is troubling for myriad reasons. Study author Dan Romer told Bloomberg, in reference to the gun violence in PG-13 movies: "At the minimum, this is sending a wrong message, and possibly it’s having an influence on vulnerable kids, who see this as a way to show resentment." But it also just shows how messed up our system of rating movies can be. Sure, someone under the age of 17 can go see a movie like White House Down, which was perfectly packed with guns, no problem, but this 23-year-old writer gets her ID checked at About Time, where sex is implied and a couple of curse words are thrown about.
To the outside observer, the difference between a PG movie and an R rating is easy to discern. PG movies have little to no offensive content and are often explicitly made for kids. R films have adult content. But when it comes to figuring out the difference between a PG-13 film and an R, the difference often feels indistinguishable. The MPAA's description of what each rating means is hard enough to parse.
Take for instance, the case with Philomena. Harvey Weinstein is currently protesting the R rating that the MPAA stamped on the film, which stars Judi Dench as a woman searching for her child given up for adoption by nuns in 1950s Ireland. (Dench herself has contributed to the protest by starring in a video as her James Bond character M.) Philomena received an R because of two F-words that appear in the film. Weinstein, in this case, is absolutely right; there is no logical reason for Philomena to be rated R when say, Captain Phillips, which features a violent real-world situation that (spoiler-alert) ends in bloodshed, is rated PG-13.
PG-13 asks movies to fall into a strange middle ground where two F-words get them kicked out of the club, but, frequently, gun violence can remain. It makes little sense.