Alphabet soup: How movie ratings will be different now

September 28, 1990|By Eric Siegel

The Motion Picture Association of America announced Wednesday the creation of a new rating category -- "NC-17" (No Children Under 17 Admitted) -- to replace the "X" rating. The MPAA also said it would begin providing a brief explanation of why films get "R" ratings. Yesterday, Jack Valenti, MPAA president, talked with Sun reporter Eric Siegel about the changes.

Question: What does "NC-17" stand for?

Answer: It stands for an adult only picture. It has the same criteria that populated the "X" rating. We are just changing the name.

Q: What happens to the "X" rating?

It's gone. Anybody can use it but it's no longer a part of the [MPAA] rating system. Unlike the "X," the "NC-17" is trademarked [as are the MPAA's "G" for general audiences; "PG" for parental guidance suggested; "PG-13" for parents strongly cautioned, and "R" ratings]. To use it, you must participate in the rating system.

Q. When do the changes go into effect?

A. The "NC-17" immediately. [The "R" rating explanations] within two weeks.

Q. Why were the changes made?

A. The sole mission of the rating system is to give some advance cautionary warnings to parents so they can make advance judgments on movies. Parents had been writing saying they wanted more information on the "R" rating.

Some months ago, controversy began on the rating system. I was being pressured by film critics and some producers to insert a rating between "R" and "X" -- an "A" for an adult film of artistic merit. I resisted this [because] you would be forcing the rating board to be making judgments on the artistic quality of films. That artistic judgment should be left to critics and audiences. But the odium attached to the "X" rating had some justifiable cause . . .

So I thought the way to deal with it was to keep all the criteria of the "X" and give it a new name. Start out fresh and say, "This means adult." It could be violence or sex or drug use that would cause it to be off-limits to children.

Q. Will previous "X"-rated films be re-rated?

A. If they choose to be. Any film producer who had submitted a film for rating and got an "X" can resubmit the film without charge.

Q. What are the changes in the "R" rating?

A. All we're doing is adding some five- or six-word explanations why the "R" was so rated. It could be gangster violence or war violence, rough language, mild sensuality, intense sensuality. The rating board is putting out a weekly bulletin that goes to the trade press and newspapers, whose critics can use it in their reviews. It will also be made available to exhibitors to put on automatic phone recorders or have at the cashier's window.

Q. Will similar explanations be provided for "NC-17"-rated films?

A. No, because that's an adult film. We don't give any recommendations to adults. They're free to do whatever they choose.

Q. What, if any, effect do you think the changes will have on movie distributors?

A. I don't know. Exhibitors will have the right to pick and choose what films they want to show.

Q. Who will decide whether a film gets an "NC-17" rating?

A. The rating board.

Q. Who sits on the rating board and how are they chosen?

A. I choose the chairman. The chairman and I choose the members. There are 11 members. They're all parents. They look at a film. Their only criterion is "What rating would most parents believe would be accurate for this film?" We don't have psychiatrists and psychologists. . . . We want to go with parents.

Q. Who will enforce the age restrictions on "NC-17" films?

A. They will have to be enforced by the theaters. They're enforcing them now if they play adult films.

Q. Will theater owners who allow kids under 17 into "NC-17"-rated movies be penalized in any way?

A. No, this is a voluntary system. That's its strength. There are no government sanctions, no penalties. We don't abuse the First Amendment.

Q. Do you expect the change in the rating system to have any effect at all on the kinds of movies that are produced?

A. No.

Q. Do you expect any problems from publications not accepting advertising for "NC-17"-rated films the way they did for "X"-rated films?

A. I don't know. That'll have to be answered by the publications themselves.

Q. Will a filmmaker whose movie is rated "NC-17" be able to appeal the rating?

A. Yes. Just as they did with the "X." Nothing's changed in the rating system except the change in the name of the category.

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