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September 4, 2009

MPAA Change a Concern to Parents


My colleague and dear friend Nell Minow of Beliefnet.com, wrote a story in today’s Chicago SunTimes about a policy change at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) that many parents will want to be aware of, all the more so because that change has gone unannounced and unrecognized…until now.

As it turns out, movie previews are no longer approved for all audiences. The change, instituted by the MPAA’s Classification and Ratings Board, went into effect this April, but was not announced to the public.

It used to be that trailers led by a green screen were safe for general audiences (regardless of the rating of the film being advertised), but those trailers led by a red screen contained restricted content and were allowed to be shown only before R-rated films. (The so-called red-band trailers have risen sharply in popularity, especially online, where children can easily get around the age verification firewalls.)

While the green-band trailers used to be “approved for all audiences,” the new designation is a far more vague “approved for appropriate audiences” though there is no indication o f who that audience may be.

Before the switch, a green-band trailer could not include anything inappropriate for general (rated G) audiences and could only imply though not show examples of violence, profanity, sex or nudity, and drug use.

The new change is already apparent. For example, the trailer for Extract, a film which comes out today, was given green-band approval but contains references to male genitalia, sexual frustration and candid drug use.

Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and a watchdog for inappropriate Hollywood marketing to children is quoted in the article as saying, "This is more evidence that the MPAA is not interested in the welfare of children or helping parents make better decisions about content." Linn feels that the MPAA ran afoul of parents when it made this change without their input, and is concerned that many parents will be "falsely reassured" when the word "appropriate" appears on the familiar green background.

While the MPAA has promised to make an effort to ensure that the content in a trailer matches that of the film it precedes, that does not guarantee that the audience being reached is the appropriate one, and parents will need to be extra vigilant to ensure that their children are not being exposed to content they deem inappropriate.

To read Nell’s article, click here.


Hmmm...yes, this is unfortunate. Even the old trailers approved for "all audiences" were usually inappropriate, some on the verge of PG-13 and/or R-rated material. And I say this as a twenty-something male who watches plenty of R-rated films (I usually don't even pay attention to the ratings).
The MPAA has just given us one more reason not to watch previews at all (since they usually make poor movies seem better than they are, which is the strategy of marketing lousy products anyway). If I want to know about a particular new release, my practice is to just read a summary on Rotten Tomatoes and then try to find a decent perspective from a Christian film critic.

I don't think this is a problem as long as the rating of the movie in the trailer doesn't exceed the rating of the movie being shown (for instance, they shouldn't preview a PG-13 or R rated movie right before a PG movie). I've been to a couple movies lately, both family and adult, and I never saw an inappropriate movie being previewed before either. For instance, I don't remember an R rated movie being previewed before "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," which is PG-13. All the trailers prior to the film were for movies PG-13 and below. Also, all the movies being previewed before "Up" (PG) were rated PG and below. As long as they keep doing this, the content of the trailers should be moot point.

Thanks for posting this, Brandon, and thanks to the commentors. Sara, as I point out in my article, the problem is that all of these trailers are available online and on DVDs, so there is really no way to ensure that the content is limited to the "appropriate" audience. Furthermore, if the MPAA has made a judgment about the material, they should be able to disclose it on the trailer the way they do on the movie. "Appropriate" means nothing without content.

I believe that it's only partly the MPAA's fault. By imposing this new "Appropriate Audiences" green band, it is ultimately up to the studios on what they want to put into their trailers. I see perfectly fine trailers that are approved for "appropriate audiences" and also raunchy trailers with the same green band.