I Want YOU to Keep Quiet: This Film is Not Yet Rated

Guest post: Kyra S.

In the age of YouTube, Twitter, blogs, and other powerful sources of independent media, censorship seems like an arcane concept relegated to authoritarian regimes. Perhaps this is why I found the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated simultaneously fascinating, frightening, and thought-provoking. If you haven’t seen it, go see it. Seriously…see it. It’s available for instant viewing on Netflix, or you’re local, you can check it out from the Ann Arbor District Library.

TFINYR is an exposé on the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Director and narrator Kirby Dick initially takes viewers through the MPAA’s transformation from a parent-centered rating system, to a Mafia-like institution. One major focus of the documentary is on the significant impact a rating has on a film’s ultimate success. Film ratings go from G all the way to NC-17—which means no children under 17 admitted under any circumstances. In the biz, the dreaded NC-17 rating instantly limits a film’s ability to reach an audience, because many movie theaters won’t show these films, and distributors won’t buy ad space for a film that no one will see. The difference between an R and NC-17 rating, therefore, has a direct, linear effect on the viewership and monetary success of the film.

 The second part of TFINYR is a detective story of sorts. Because MPAA raters are kept completely anonymous, Kirby Dick and a small team of private investigators go on a quest to determine their identities. Through clever investigative methods, they figure out some essentials to MPAA ratings: raters follow no formula for how to rate a film, and have no established credentials as experts in child psychology or any other relevant field. In fact, raters are praised for being normal people who have children between the ages of 5 and 17 (which is also proven false in the film).

Although most have been edited, all of these films initially received NC-17 ratings.

It is not just the lack of qualifications of raters that has gotten me so incensed, but the reinforcement of violent, heteronormative messages for young people. To begin with, America’s rating system is completely inverted from Europe’s. In Europe, movies with excessive violence have more severe ratings, whereas in this country, sex is seen as more dangerous than death. Women’s sexuality in particular frightens raters. They reward movies that depict a woman enjoying herself or in control of her sexuality with NC-17 ratings. Homosexual behavior in films is also judged harshly. Heterosexuality and the denial of female pleasure are further buttressed as normal—all else is unacceptable. What messages do kids take away from a lack of exposure to films depicting romantic sexual encounters, homosexual sexual activity, or a woman who has agency over her sexuality?

 What about all that violence that young Americans are inundated with? Movies that show blood and the consequences of violence, such as Saving Private Ryan, are actually given more severe ratings than movies that do not. So, shooting a gun doesn’t result in severe consequences? Is the assumption that children are more capable of figurative thinking than adults?

The MPAA and its rating system are problematic both because of the blatant reinforcement of a patriarchal society, and the lack of exposure to alternative ideas. History has taught us that exposure to the viewpoints of marginalized groups creates a more open and accepting society. If the MPAA is only representative of a small elite group, how can we expect an informed democratic citizenship?

The director of Jersey Girl, Kevin Smith, proffered my favorite quote of the movie: “If I were to create a rating system, […] I wouldn’t even put murder right at the top of the chief offenses. I would put rape right at the top of chief offenses […] and assault against women because it’s so insanely overused, and insulting how much it’s overused in movies as a plot device—a woman in peril. That to me is offensive. Yet that shit skates.”

The Social Network: The Dragon Lady Returns

Do you know who Brenda Song is? After acting on Nickelodeon for several years, Ms. Song is kicking off a big screen career of Facebook proportions. She stars in The Social Network as Eduardo Savarin’s groupie girlfriend, Christy. I don’t think this film needs any introduction.

I don’t want to talk about the woeful lack of female character development in The Social Networkbetter publicized blogs have done that. I want to talk about the temporal significance of Christy’s character, from her over-made face down to her stiletto heels.

She meets Facebook financier Eduardo Savarin through whispered conversation at a lecture on Harvard’s campus. (Speaker? Bill Gates.) A few scenes later, Christy, and her Asian friend, Alice, take Facebook founders Eduardo Savarin and Mark Zuckerberg into the bathroom for a little non-verbal oral engagement. Alice disappears from the film without a trace, but Christy and Eduardo begin to date.To sum up without spoilers, Christy is portrayed as an opportunistic, hypersexual, pushy broad who also happens to be bat-shit crazy. Assume what you will from the photo provided—the circumstances that created this scene are rationally out of the realm of mental possibility.

As identities are often constructed as binary, for Asian women, these identities are the Lotus Blossom and the Dragon Lady. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s portrayal of Christy neatly places her into an image we’ve seen before: Asian women as dangerous, sneaky, or sly. On the flipside of this stereotype binary is the Lotus Blossom, aka the passive/sweet/submissive Asian woman. Needless to say, Christy breathes fire. But where has the Lotus Blossom gone? I  haven’t seen her much, not since one achingly stereotypical Phoebe Heyerdahl, a creation of Nickelodeon Studios—Brenda Song’s alma mater.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World is a film that displays an amazing identity fake-out. Scott’s girlfriend at the beginning of the film, Knives (yes, that is her name) goes from 20th Century Lotus Blossom (see: loves Hello Kitty) to Dragon Lady2k10 — a martial arts experts who wants to kick everybody’s ass.

Quel choq. By moving between completely archetypal poles, Knives’ character evens out as a flat, cartoonish caricature.

I’ve read that shows like Lost and Grey’s Anatomy feature Asian characters with depth and nuance, which is awesome. Demographically, Asians of all persuasions makes up 5% of the U.S. population, but they are the best educated, and have the highest household income of all the races. I demand to see the intelligent, three-dimensional Asian women that I know exist! Do it for Brenda Song—she can’t play vengeful sluts for the rest of her career.