As the architect Mies van der Rohe once famously observed, “God is in the details.” But thanks to a recent decision by the Motion Picture Association of America, it now appears that God is widening his focus and getting involved with movie ratings.
No, this isn’t a case of the Almighty asking for script rewrites. Or a demand from on high for—God help us—the holiest of all show-business holy grails, a.k.a. the holy trinity: casting approval, gross-profit participation and final cut.
Instead, this is a story about the MPAA, and religion, and concerns about proselytizing, wherein the ratings board may not be on the side of the angels.
The movie under discussion is called Facing the Giants. It’s the story of a Christian high-school football coach who’s fighting a losing streak at a Christian high school in Georgia. You’ve already seen the film, even if you haven’t: It’s one of those “Indomitable Football Coach Spurs Underdog Team onto Greater Glory” sagas that have been endlessly rejiggered, recycled and retold down through the ages—probably dating back to the days when the first sports scribe chiseled the words “Final Score: Israelites VI, Egyptians V, in Sudden-Death Overtime.”
But here’s the interesting and somewhat ironic kicker: The movie was made by Provident Films, a Tennessee-based production company that specializes in faith-based entertainment and is owned by Sony. Yes, Sony. The same Sony that put out The Da Vinci Code. (The company is in the Christian film business via its Sony/BMG Music division.)
Anyway, it seems that when Facing the Giants was submitted to the MPAA, the producers were concerned about a subplot involving infertility. But nevertheless, they anticipated receiving a family-friendly “G”—meaning there was nothing in the film to concern parents with young children.
Instead, the board issued a “PG” rating—because of “thematic” elements. And what elements were those? Not drugs, not violence and not sex—but religion.
As the MPAA explained to Kris Fuhr, Provident Films vice president for marketing: “The movie was heavily laden with messages from one religion, and this might offend people from other religions. We alert parents to something that isn’t in their religion. Parents are very sensitive about having their kids exposed to religious material.”
Now, never mind that this kind of oversight seems entirely beyond the calling of the MPAA. Especially for a film that—from its trailer alone—is clearly about a Christian football coach embracing his faith.
And let’s not begin to discuss the other absurdities of the current rating system: The unconscionable amount of violence that has now crept into PG-13 films. Or the “dancing on the head of pin” that now afflicts filmmakers, whereby one use of the word “fuck” gets you a PG-13, but two gets you an R—as if, somehow, that second incantation made a huge difference.
I’m no prude. I’ve worked on my share of movies with cartoon violence and sexual innuendo. But looking at the MPAA’s decision, I can’t help but wonder if it’s possible to make any film today without it issuing a content warning. Forget about the biblical epics, like The Ten Commandments. I’m thinking about Lassie, where the family sits down to pray before dinner.
As Ms. Fuhr quipped in a phone interview, “It’s interesting that faith is now one of the seven deadly sins.” But I’ll go one better: If the MPAA is going to follow this path, let’s go the whole nine yards (as opposed to the whole hog, which would undoubtedly be offensive to Muslims, Jews and animal-rights activists), and institute the following new, improved movie ratings.
—RH-13: Revisionist History. Contains characters, dialogue and historical conclusions that bear no resemblance to what actually occurred. Sometimes designated OS-13, in honor of Oliver Stone.
—PP-13: Product Placement. Contains images of toys, cell phones, luxury automobiles or other brand-name consumables that may be inappropriate for easily suggestible children under the age of 60.
—CF-13: Conventional Family. Traditionally gendered husband and wife, with 2.4 kids. And a dog. View at your peril.
—VP-13: Vanity Project. May contain OTTA (Over-the-Top Acting), or depictions of MSwFD (Movie Star with a Fatal Disease.) Sometimes rated LD/DA/FaC: Last-ditch desperate attempt for comeback by a fading movie star who’s cut his/her fee to appear in a low-budget film. Occasionally rated VI, for Very Important; somewhat less frequently rated OC-17, for Oscar Contender.
—-IAAF-13: It’s All America’s Fault. Any post-9/11 film with political overtones, wherein we learn that the real threat isn’t Al Qaeda, but a middle-aged white guy working for a sinister corporation (or the C.I.A.) and somehow involves Big Oil.
—S/S-13: A so-so film that got much better reviews than it deserved, mainly because it was better than 99 percent of the rest of the dreck reviewers are forced to sit through every rear. Lord, take pity on their souls.
—PD-13: Pretentious Dissembling. The critics think it’s a boring, badly executed disaster film; the director insists it’s an allegory for the failures of the Bush administration in every human endeavor. May also be rated RS-O (Red State Offensive) at the producer’s discretion.
—PM-13: Post-Modernist. Reconceptualizes the context and social construct of archetypal themes and iconic, beloved characters. Translation: No, Batman isn’t gay. But he sure acts like it.
—FP-13: Franchise Potential. Warning: Viewing this mindless film in a theater will set off an irreversible chain of events leading to a sequel. Particularly offensive to cineastes that are repulsed by films with Roman numerals in the title.
—3M: Murder, Mayhem, Misogyny; or Mutants, Morons, Malevolence. Whatever.
—RP-13: Reviewer-Proof. Contains language, sequences and story elements that will offend the critics, delight the audience and infuriate competing movie studios—resulting in a slew of copycat films 18 months later, all of which will fail at the box office.
—DVD-13: A Renter. Otherwise, may lead to fidgeting and an abrupt exit from the theater. In extreme cases, viewers have been known to beseech the heavens: Why can’t Hollywood make better movies?