NATO Makes the ‘Bully’ Ratings Controversy Worse

Well, this is charming. The National Association of Theater Owners has decided to respond to the Weinstein Company’s complaints that the MPAA rating system was too rigid and context-resistant to deal with Bully in a nuanced, intelligent way…by being even more rigid and context-resistant! Deadline reports:

Surveys of America’s parents reflect their very strong concern with the use of harsh language in movies. The vast majority of parents surveyed have indicated that the type of language used in “Bully” should receive an automatic “R” rating. You ask us to ignore the preferences of America’s parents and our own ratings rules because of the merit of this movie. Yet were the MPAA and NATO to waive the ratings rules whenever we believed that a particular movie had merit, or was somehow more important than other movies, we would no longer be neutral parties applying consistent standards, but rather censors of content based on personal mores…I have nothing but tremendous respect for you and the work of TWC. Our industry is so much the better for your involvement. But if you decide to withdraw your support and participation in the rating system, and begin to release movies without ratings, I will have no choice but to encourage my theater owner members to treat unrated movies from The Weinstein Company in the same manner as they treat unrated movies from anyone else.

In most cases, that means enforcement as though the movies were rated NC-17 – where no one under the age of 18 can be admitted even with accompanying parents or guardians.

I’m not a parent, but this reads to me less as an attempt to be responsive to America’s parents and much more as a nuclear option to try to limit the audiences for movies that come out of studios that have the temerity to say that the ratings system doesn’t work for them. It’s one thing to enforce the ratings system, and another to jack up the rating that a movie would have gotten otherwise if a studio doesn’t want to comply with the system. That’s not safeguarding community standards: it’s about showing you have power. Particularly since some school districts are going to try to get permission for their students to see Bully anyway, something that would become impossible if the theaters started enforcing rules that required parents to accompany their children to the movie during the workday.

And of course, this is also a move that will limit tickets sales for NATO members who carry Bully. I wonder if showing you’re willing to get into an arms race with one of Hollywood’s best salesmen is worth the lost revenue.