Real life and reel life have always been intertwined and it is very tough to say which one influences the other. Take the turbulent decade of the 1960s, for instance. Young people took to the streets in large numbers and in an absolutely unprecedented manner in order to clamour for change in society. The art of movie-making, quite naturally, changed very much during this period and an entirely different type of cinema emerged after leaving behind the restrictions of the prim and proper 1950s. The daring style of cinema that emerged during this period led to the awarding of movie review ratings. In fact, this innovation was the brainchild of Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) at that time.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” was one of the first movies that dared to press the boundaries of what could be said on screen. The MPAA was shocked to encounter the word ‘screw’ in this movie and it called for it to be cut. The phrase “hump the hostess”, also from the same movie, was considered slightly less scandalous and it was retained.
There was an even bigger controversy surrounding “Blow-Up” from MGM because it contained nudity. The authorities in California did not give it approval and this decision was later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court since there was a valid concern that children would have exposure to films and books with adult content since adults couldn’t very well be denied them.
Valenti’s solution for this problem was to recommend a movie rating system so that there would be no confusion about what kind of content the film contained. Discussions took place between bodies representing different stakeholders in the film industry such as producers, distributors, actors, directors, writers, and even theatre owners. Representatives from religious organizations were also included in these discussions because they expressed deep concerns about kids getting the wrong ideas from movies.
The movie rating system that was originally devised consisted of G (General audiences i.e., audiences of all ages), M (Mature audiences – all ages would be admitted but parental guidance was recommended), R (Restricted i.e. children younger than 16 would only be permitted if accompanied by an adult) and lastly, X (children under 17 not admitted).
Within a while, M category was changed to GP (General audiences, Parental guidance suggested) because this gave a better description of the category. Within a year it was changed once again to “PG: Parental Guidance Suggested.” This category was change once more when it was divided into PG (for young kids) and PG-13 (for older kids)
The movie business is a huge one indeed. Therefore, it is no surprise that its review and rating system served a very important purpose and continues to do so. After all, it helps guide parents about the suitability of films for their children. These ratings are given after intense scrutiny and deliberation of each film so that adults can be offered films that appeal to their mature sensibilities without the risk of children seeing them by mistake.