March 2, 2011

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

The King's Speech re-rated "PG-13 for language"

Today's MPAA ratings bulletin announces that Weinstein's The King's Speech has been re-rated from "R" to "PG-13 for language." The bulletin notes: "Edited version. Content is different from 'R' rated version...9/15/10."

Re-rating may get Weinstein a sales boost on the DVD release, but an MPAA waiver also allows the re-rated film to be released to theaters to reap post-Oscars® publicity. News:

"We thank the MPAA for their speedy and sensitive consideration of the alternative version of The King's Speech," said [Weinstein] COO David Glasser. "We are thrilled that they have assigned this version a PG-13 rating and are very grateful for the waiver of the 90-day withdrawal period. At this time, [Weinstein] and the filmmakers are discussing the appropriate next steps." 

There's no indication that the edits affect depictions of smoking in The King's Speech. These would be excepted from the widely-backed "R" for smoking because the film portrays the smoking of actual historical characters who actually smoked. The future George VI ultimately contracted lung cancer. (See 2/2/11 SFM ad in trade publications)

But notice that Weinstein thought it was so important to win a PG-13 rating, for marketing purposes, that it voluntarily edited the film, by deleting several f-words, the difference between an "R" and "PG-13." 

The R-rating for smoking, if the MPAA treated it as categorically as it does language, would create a similar incentive to keep smoking out of non-biographical, youth-rated films in the first place.


News stories persistently say that the MPAA already takes smoking into ratings consideration. Reporters write it because the MPAA claims it (or they see an old story and pick it up without checking). In your work with the media, anticipate this error of fact and correct it. Here's how:

• What about those "smoking" labels?

Neither True Grit nor The King's Speech (in its new PG-13 rating) are labeled "smoking" in the fine-print of their PG-13 ratings. Both feature 50+ tobacco incidents and together have delivered 2.5 billion tobacco impressions to domestic theater audiences, so far.

In 2010, the MPAA added smoking labels to onlytwo out of the two dozen top-grossing PG-13 films with smoking: Remember Me and The A Team. Together, these two films delivered 415 million tobacco impressions.

In 2007, the MPAA invited Harvard School of Public Health to recommend what the film industry should do about movie smoking. HSPH dean Barry Bloom warned that merely labeling smoking with a descriptor, rather than eliminating it, would be "cynical." Weeks later, the MPAA announced that smoking might be labeled and might affect a film's rating, but committed to neither action. 

• Smoking is not in MPAA's rating rule book 

Four years later, the MPAA's rating rules (rev. Jan 1, 2010) mention neither tobacco nor smoking. But it describes precisely how drug use and "one of the harsher sexually-derived words" trigger higher ratings. 

What's an adult activity? 

The rules twice mention "adult activities," that is, "activities that adults, but not minors, may engage in legally," but without naming an activity or the rating consequences. The MPAA does not make clear if "adult activities" refer to portrayals of adults in movies kids see, or else to portrayals of young people engaged in "adult activities." 

Our concern lies in the former: one so rarely sees kids smoking on screen that studies of impact are really studies of kids watching adults smoking. As for the latter, the MPAA has long made mixed calls on kids engaged in "adult activities" (a PG-13 film may be labeled "teen partying," an R-rated film labeled "teen drinking"). 

No up-rating for smoking: 

In the past four years, the MPAA has labeled a small fraction of wide-release, youth-rated films with smoking. It has never named a single wide-release film it up-rated for smoking content. (UCSF report on MPAA tobacco practices

Labels are a "placebo policy"

Through May 2010, "PG" movies with smoking, such as Rango (opening Friday, March 4), were more likely to be labeled (44%) than were PG-13 films (10%). PG-13 films with smoking are much more numerous than PG films with smoking, carry more tobacco incidents on average, and account for 90+ percent of youth-rated tobacco impressions (2005-9). 

From May 2007 to May 2010, the MPAA labeled only 15 percent of all wide-release, youth-rated films with smoking. Is it the MPAA's intention that policy makers and parents should think there are 85 percent fewer kid-rated movies with smoking than there really are? To believe that any film without a smoking label is smokefree? What happened to MPAA's claim that the purpose of its ratings is to help parents make informed decisions? No industry-connected source gives the public accurate and reliable information about smoking in films.

The solution is not more "cynical" labels. The solution is the "R" that producers and parents care about. Some major studios already act as if the R-rating were in place. So why not just put it in place — creating a clear standard and a level playing field for the entire US film industry?

MPAA, the major studios' lobbying organization, leaderless for more than a year, hired Chris Dodd as chairman on March 1. His name first surfaced in November of 2010. In an August 2010 news story, he is quoted as saying he would not become a lobbyist after leaving the Senate. 

Here's to changing minds.

From Jonathan Polansky and Stan Glantz

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