Following through on a commitment made to Vice President Joseph Biden in the wake of the December shooting in Newtown, Conn., the Motion Pictures Association of America and the National Association of Theater Owners are making minor tweaks to the movie ratings system in order to better inform parents. The new “Check the Box” campaign, unveiled at CinemaCon, will highlight descriptions of why a movie received a certain rating. Also, there will be a tag attached to trailers explaining that the trailer is approved to play with the feature they came to see. The campaign also includes a new PSA, as well as a new poster that will be displayed at theaters across the country.
Given that the ratings system is intended to give parents information that will help them decide whether or not their children should be allowed to see given movies, any movie that makes it easier for them to get details on why the ratings board decided to assign a given letter rating is a useful one, even if highlighting the rationales won’t placate people who object to any given decision.
And I think it’s a smart move to try to align trailers with the content they’re paired with. It’s easy to start with the theater owners, of course, because trailers and movies are governed under the same ratings system, and so it’s not tremendously difficult to pair up trailers that have been cut to the same standards as the movies they air in front of. And though it would be much more difficult, I think this kind of alignment is something the movie industry should strive for with television as well. It might mean some financial hits for networks if they stop accepting violent advertising for movies to air during general interest programming like sporting events, and it might require some creativity on behalf of the people cutting trailers to make spots for R-rated content that’s appropriate to air before general audiences, or that doesn’t feature guns or gun violence. But these constraints don’t seem like they would completely paralyze either television or movie studios.
The MPAA writes in to let me know that the campaign isn’t actually making changes to existing practices, but to let folks know more about what they’re already doing in both theaters and on home video to align trailers and the content they’re aired in front of. The Theater Owners will be donating screen time to air this PSA:
And they’ll be redesigning the ratings box to make reasons for ratings easier to read, and Joan Graves, who runs the ratings board, will be asking movie reviewers to run the full explanations for the ratings. It’s an important reminder that parents are already getting a lot of what they need out of the system—they just need to know where to look for it.