June 11, 2006

Weekend Question 2: When Did the Existence of Christian Themes Become Grounds for a “PG” Rating?

Filed under: Business Moves,Consumer Outrage,Corporate Outrage,TWUQs — Tom @ 9:04 am

I’ll admit that because of time constraints the daily e-mails I get from Don Wildmon’s American Family Association usually get a “yeah, yeah” response from me. He seems all too willing to use the boycott and letter campaign as a weapon, when I think those tactics should be used much more selectively.

Wildmon also, along with his “values” compadres James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and the like, also have the worst instincts I’ve ever seen in electoral politics, backing candidates who are either objectively unworthy or at best highly questionable, while ignoring those without baggage who actually agree with them more strongly (him in the 2005 Second District Congressional Primary, and her in 2006′s), and who could accomplish more for their causes.

But I am grateful that Wildmon (and on June 13, Perkins) brought this following item to wider attention. If you don’t think there is a culture war in the US, this will make you think again (bolds are mine):

Narrow focus draws ‘PG’ rating for Baptist-backed film
Scripps Howard News Service
June 7, 2006

The Motion Picture Association of America is crystal clear when it describes why its “PG” rating exists — it’s a warning flag.

“The theme of a PG-rated film may itself call for parental guidance,” states the online explanation of the rating system. “There may be some profanity in these films. There may be some violence or brief nudity. … The PG rating, suggesting parental guidance, is thus an alert for examination of a film by parents before deciding on its viewing by their children. Obviously such a line is difficult to draw.”

Disagreements are a given. The Christian moviemakers behind a low-budget film called “Facing the Giants” were stunned when the MPAA pinned a PG rating on their gentle movie about a burned-out, depressed football coach whose life – on and off the field – takes a miraculous turn for the better.

“What the MPAA said is that the movie contained strong ‘thematic elements’ that might disturb some parents,” said Kris Fuhr, vice president for marketing at Provident Films, which is owned by Sony Pictures. Provident plans to open the film next fall in 380 theaters nationwide with the help of Samuel Goldwyn Films, which has worked with indie movies like “The Squid and the Whale.”

Which “thematic elements” earned this squeaky-clean movie its PG?

“Facing the Giants” is too evangelistic.

The MPAA, noted Fuhr, tends to offer cryptic explanations for its ratings. In this case, she was told that it “decided that the movie was heavily laden with messages from one religion and that this might offend people from other religions. It’s important that they used the word ‘proselytizing’ when they talked about giving this movie a PG. …

“It is kind of interesting that faith has joined that list of deadly sins that the MPAA board wants to warn parents to worry about.”

….. the scene that caught the MPAA’s attention may have been the chat between football coach Grant Taylor – played by Alex Kendrick – and a rich brat named Matt Prader. The coach says that he needs to stop bad-mouthing his bossy father and get right with God.

The boy replies: “You really believe in all that honoring God and following Jesus stuff? … Well, I ain’t trying to be disrespectful, but not everybody believes in that.”

The coach replies: “Matt, nobody’s forcing anything on you. Following Jesus Christ is the decision that you’re going to have to make for yourself. You may not want to accept it, because it’ll change your life. You’ll never be the same.”

Excuse the expression, but “God forbid” that anyone talk about God in a movie.

How did “The Pistol” (the movie about legendary Louisiana basketball player Pete Maravich, which among other things chronicles his becoming a born-again Christian) ever survive with a G rating?

Rather than focus on why “Facing the Giants” got the PG, let’s try to find out from the G description why it doesn’t get a G (bold is mine):

G — General Audiences

This is a film which contains nothing in theme, language, nudity and sex, violence, etc. that would, in the view of the Rating Board, be offensive to parents whose younger children view the film. The G rating is not a certificate of approval nor does it signify a children’s film.

Some snippets of language may go beyond polite conversation but they are common everyday expressions. No stronger words are present in G-rated films. The violence is at a minimum. Nudity and sex scenes are not present, nor is there any drug use content.

The only conceivable disqualifier from a G rating is “theme,” which Wildmon rightly notes in his suggested draft e-mail to the MPAA (it’s your decision as to whether to protest; I’m just providing the link) “place(s) Christianity in the same category as sex, violence and profanity.”

From a business perspective, Hollywood doesn’t seem to “get” why millions of people don’t go to movies, or even view its productions any more at any price. After dropping almost 9% last year (in number of tickets sold), the dollar amount of the box office increase in 2006 through early June is barely more than general inflation, in a year when the roster of potential summer blockbusters looks to me to be very suspect. More bubbleheaded moves like the treatment of “Little Giants” will create even more audience attrition.

UPDATE, June 13: The film’s web site is very well done.

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