Last night I watched Kirby Dick’s terrific 2006 documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated. Go watch the trailer!

Even though I worked in the film industry, I never gave much thought to who made ratings decisions and how. This film tried to open up that world. The raters are supposed to be parents of children ages 5-17, and they are supposed to remain anonymous. The parent part does not always seem to be the case. What’s especially troubling is that raters are given no guidelines; they just go by their guts. So filmmakers have no idea what to expect when they send their films in for ratings.

Generally I tend to disagree with the ratings which, as the film pointed out, tend to think sex is always terrible and violence is okay. I read reviews to find out if it’s a movie I am going to enjoy or not — and whether or not it contains content I would find objectionable. What’s troubling about the ratings system is that independent movies tend to be treated more harshly. Violence gets a pass while sex does not. And if it’s gay sex or if the woman in a heterosexual couple seems to be enjoying herself too much, well that’s almost begging for an NC-17.

And that’s what scares me about the idea of age-rating books that flares up from time to time. Because what’s offensive? Who decides? Can I get a warning label for bad writing? Because that offends me far more than two girls realizing they are in love (or two penguins for that matter). In all seriousness, as an author and a librarian, I believe it’s up to the parents to find out what a book is about, what themes and topics it covers, and if that’s the right book for their child at that time. That information was never very hard to find — just ask an librarian. Now with the internet and a million blogs and Goodreads and LibraryThing and all that it’s beyond easy.

As an aside, Keven Smith had perhaps my favorite moment of the film. Paraphrasing, he said that if were to make a rating system, rape and violence against women would be the biggest strike against a film because there are already too many films that use the woman-in-distress as a plot point. I actually raised my fist in the air and said, “That’s right! That’s why I love Kevin Smith.”

This Book is Not Yet Rated? And why I love Kevin Smith
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