CMU School of Drama

Monday, September 19, 2016

Studios Focus on Opinionated Nature of Movie Ratings in Smoking-in-Films Lawsuit

Hollywood Reporter: The Motion Picture Association of America is offering a full-throated defense that movie ratings are protected under the First Amendment. On Thursday, the trade association and their member studios discussed in a court brief the way that ratings are registered as trademarks and emphasized the subjective nature of ratings. The filing is the latest in a putative class action that blames Hollywood for smoking-related deaths and demands that any film featuring tobacco imagery not be given "G," "PG" or "PG-13" ratings.

8 comments:

Jacob Wesson said...

There are strong arguments to be made for both camps on this one, and I'm not sure which one I fall into or if this can be broken down so cleanly. On the one hand, smoking is a dangerous habit, and it's one that kids technically shouldn't be able to take up until they are 18 (21, in some states), so this movie rating change would be simply reflective of the culture. That being said, it is almost impossible to imagine that a youth will have no exposure to smoking before they come of age, and so censoring things in one very narrow aspect of their life just for the sake of censoring it seems to be preventative just for the sake of it. I agree with the MPAA that the whole point of the rating is to inform parents about the intended audience of the content, and that these ratings are not a hard, fast rule on how parents should be judging the content their children see. I think freedom of speech does also have a role to play, since smoking can fulfill a very specific narrative and metaphorical role in a story. I think the main concern is that big tobacco gets free publicity here, but if the anti-tobacco lobbyists really want to make a difference, they should go after that cool guy smoking under the bleachers at any local high school first.

Julian Goldman said...

I suppose I see the logic behind wanting to make smoking in movies be rated R, but I don’t think it is justified to have a movie be rated R because characters are doing something that most children will see around them as they are walking down the street. I think saying those movies should be rated PG-13 is perhaps justifiable, but then again, I know that making tobacco automatically rated R will force movies to not have characters smoke in a way that wouldn’t be the case of the movie were PG-13. I think what makes the most sense is to publicize the risks of exposing children to smoking, and have warnings on movies saying that contain smoking, but not actually require an R rating purely because of tobacco use. In the end, parents decide what their kids watch, so I think it is most important to make it clear to parents that they should be cautious about their children watching movies with tobacco use.

Kimberly McSweeney said...

This article works better for me than the other one when it comes to explaining the lawsuit at hand. I now understand that the R ratings you see on movies are directed by or made to tell the consumer a fact about the movie in order to encourage informed decision when purchasing a product. The ratings are put into a separate classification that is covered by the first amendment and can be considered opinions that do not impede artistic liberties. It’s very interesting to see both sides of the argument laid out, and especially that scientific fact is also being taking into account as Hollywood is blamed for more than a million tobacco-related deaths in the minor-population. While still minorly confusing, I think I have a better grip on this lawsuit and believe that a middle ground could be found in placing regular ratings on these movies, but adding a disclaimer much like the others (Good Housekeeping, Grown in Idaho, No Animals Harmed) that warns parents about tobacco use in films.

Jason Cohen said...

I did not realize, until the other day when David told us in class, that here at CMU we make a conscious choice not to depict smoking on stage. My personal view is that you should be able to use whatever devices (with in reason) to effectively tell your story. The key is to tell the story effectively not excessively. There are so many times where a play will have a perfect hit home moment that will just be overshadowed by something else in the production because of this idea. However, is smoking really the thing driving ratings? To me, smoking is a very common thing that could make a movie PG-13 over PG, but I don’t see this as being the main factor. I say this because there is probably no need to depict smoking in any work rated under PG-13. What I think is driving these ratings are: (1) graphic situations and (2) whoever the studio sees as the ideal audience.

Alexa James-Cardenas (ajamesca@andrew.cmu.edu) said...

I’ve very conflicted when it comes to this article. Being from Los Angeles, one thing I can say for sure that in most of my life, smoking has been seen has a disgusting habit that would more than likely kill you. Currently, I don’t like the smell of smoke or being around it, but as I’m stepping outside my previous bubble, I’m starting to realize a lot more people smoke. I’m not going to preach to anyone about smoking, but personally, as I said before, I’m not a fan.
When it comes to this article, I can definitely see both sides. Children being exposed to the idea of smoking is more likely to urge them to try it more early on then them not seeing. However, does that constitute it for a movie to be ranked ‘R’ if they do depict smoking? I’m not sure. I’ve seen a lot worse in movies that are considered PG-13/R, which I can say, “Yes this is inappropriate for children/ anyone with an immature younger mind”, and compare them to smoking, it almost seems harmless. To be honest, I think we are coming a little too harsh when it comes to ratings. I remember watching this one movie that was ‘R’, and I came out of the movie confused and wonder what in world made them rate that movie ‘R’. I wish I can remember the movie, but all I remember is that I felt no justification for that movie to be ‘R’, when there are a lot worse things in another movie that are more suitable for the extreme rating.
As of right now, I can make a decision, but one thing I do think we will maybe see is the progression of a crackdown of ratings of movies. I hope that is wrong, but we will see.

Evan Smith said...

I find it intriguing how over time our perceptions of what is right and what is wrong has changed so drastically. Even though what is mentioned is talked about in the sense of what is depicted, you can’t take two steps without hurting someone’s feelings. Looking back now at movies I’ve watched more currently than those in the past, I’ve realized that things are different. Also you have to look at the culture of film and its effects on kids growing up. You always hear kids say “I want to be like this guy or that guy,” film has a way of leaving lasting impressions more than we realize. Do I think that the film ratings are being a little more critical than what they need to be, sure? Things were different back then, and we’ve become even more critical since then, but then again there has been a drastic change to our culture and our way of life.

Megan Jones said...

Although I can appreciate the desire to keep children away from any positive depiction of smoking, I don't think that rating all movies with smoking "R" is the answer. Like Jacob said, it's almost impossible that a child wouldn't be exposed to smoking at all before they were 18. After reading this article I looked up which children's movies, specifically Disney, actually contain smoking and I was pretty surprised with what I found. Aladdin, Hercules, The Little Mermaid, and many others all contain smoking or tobacco use at some point. I watched all of these movies as a kid and it didn't influence how I viewed tobacco, in fact I didn't even remember those parts of those movies. Obviously I'm just one person, but I'm sure there are other people that feel the same way. Changing the ratings of these movies isn't going to have as much of an impact as simply increasing awareness of the dangers of smoking to children would. Maybe a compromise between these two sides could be to have a PSA against tobacco use play before the advertisements of movies that contain it. Overall I do appreciate the goal of this lawsuit, but I think it needs to be approached from a different angle.

Madeleine Wester said...

I do agree with the MPAA that letting young children see smoking in movies can be detrimental, but I'm also aware of the rising "need" for censorship in America. Yes, smoking is a health hazard, and yes, accurate ratings on films is important, but that doesn't necessarily mean censorship should go up. I also think it is interesting that in our culture we can see the problem of depicting smoking in children/teen movies, but issues of violence or torture, etc, are not as much of a concern. As a kid, I never consciously found myself wanting to be the cool guy in a teen movie who was smoking, but for every smoking scene I saw, I was exposed to violent crimes in films. I think one of the major differences between European countries and America is the allowance of nudity, smoking, swearing, in European films and the allowance of violence, torture, crime, in American movies. Either way, MPAA puts up a strong argument that I have trouble taking a full side on. Perhaps this added rating system WILL change the smoking habits of young adults/teens in America, but I think we still have other issues in film to discuss.

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