This Film is Not Yet Rated, a 2006 documentary film directed by Kirby Dick, explores the film rating policies in the US in exhaustive detail — and how those policies affect a film's distribution and overall content before its release.note
The film contains interviews with numerous filmmakers who believe the ratings system amounts to censorship — as well as scenes from their films that ended up either removed or "adjusted" prior to said films' releases. The documentary exposes how the MPAA keeps the identities of its ratings board's members a closely-guarded secret, then documents the process of trying to discover (and reveal) their identities.
Also, here is the kicker: the filmmakers then submit that version of the documentary to the MPAA ratings board. Though it received an NC-17 rating, the final version of the film ended up released as (and will forever remain) unrated.note
These Tropes Are Not Yet Rated:
- Blatant Lies: The filmmakers managed to get two members of the MPAA appeals board who would speak on camera; one of them insisted on anonymity. The film intersplices the two interviews, which give completely contradictory explanations on how the process works.
- Censor Decoy: Discussed, like many other Censorship Tropes. Team America: World Police is brought up as an example where the infamous "puppet sex" scene was originally far, far longer and more explicit than the filmmakers actually wanted, giving them stuff they could cut away to satisfy the MPAA that they didn't want in the film anyway. . . leading to the "Unrated" home video release, which included the full "puppet sex" scene, going far past the point of being funny.
- Censorship Bureau: See Omniscient Council of Vagueness. Because the MPAA doesn't want to be perceived as this, they're often hesitant to explain exactly why they're giving a specific film a specific rating, leaving directors and editors to guess at how much of what to cut for resubmission to reach a target rating. Flat-out asking the MPAA how the film would need to be edited to reach a target rating may or may not work. . . and seems to be more likely to work if it's a studio-backed feature, less likely to work for an independent film.
- Content Warnings: Part of the film's purpose is to examine which movies get which warnings, and why.
- Double Standard: The film points out plenty of them — how sex scenes are often edited more than scenes of violence (including rape scenes), how male nudity is censored compared to female nudity, and how homosexual love scenes can cause higher content ratings compared to heterosexual love scenes, among others.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The filmmakers didn't present the final released version of this documentary to the MPAA (it only has a second's worth of difference), which means the film never ended up rated by the MPAA.
- Explicit Content: Unavoidable, given the subject of the film.
- Gay Panic: In-universe. The film dedicates a brief section to how the MPAA often rates scenes with explicit homosexual content higher than scenes with explicit heterosexual content, even if the straight version is more explicit than the gay one (e.g. a lesbian masturbating through her bedclothes in But I'm a Cheerleader risks an NC-17, but Kevin Spacey's character miserably masturbating in the shower in American Beauty gets an R).
- Insistent Terminology:
- The MPAA ratings board wants you to know that they do not consider themselves censors.
- Numerous clips of Jack Valenti show him asserting that the members of the board "are neither gods nor fools, just parents" and represent the "average family". Jamie Babbit, the director of But I'm a Cheerleader, wonders if Valenti thought that meant gay and lesbian parents such as herself. You can probably guess the answer.
- Of course, you can't really define the term "average family" in America because of all the different co-existing cultures. Unless the MPAA refers to "anything that we can't construe as mentally or physically abusive under US law", then their definition can't make sense given everything that they won't allow in an R-rated movie.
- As investigation showed, most of the censors were not an "average family" anyway.
- Jerkass Has a Point: The MPAA is rather vilified by the documentary (and based on the specific incidents, not necessarily unfairly), but some of their decisions do make an amount of sense. For instance, not allowing citing of precedent (i.e. Film X had Scene Y and Rating Z; my film has Scene A which is like Scene Y but is getting Rating B), since practices and standards have changed over time. In particular, the creation of the PG-13 rating in 1984, in response to the too-intense-for-PG-but-not-intense-enough-for-R Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Many PG films released before the creation of the PG-13 rating border on R, with Precision F Strikes and even nudity (Airplane! is an example, with prominent bare bouncing breasts right up in camera at one point, a shot impossible to include in a PG movie after 1984, and unlikely even in a PG-13).
- Kangaroo Court: According to Dick, he could not cite past MPAA decisions during the appeals process, even if they contradicted decisions that ultimately affected his film.
- Media Watchdogs: The film puts a spotlight on them, but it takes the MPAA ratings board to task in particular.
- Mohs Scale of Violence Hardness: The interesting point is made by one of the interviewed filmmakers that a film like, say, The Godfather, which has fairly sparse but very brutal violence, gets an R rating, while a James Bond film, with dozens or hundreds of people gunned down in Bloodless Carnage, gets a PG or PG-13. But since the latter example is inarguably less realistic than the former, it should logically take a more mature mind to realize it as a sanitized and fantastic version of violence, thus sanitized violence should be restricted to more mature audiences while younger audiences should be shown the more realistic version of the horror and consequences of violence.
- Moral Guardians: The MPAA says it supposedly has no religious affiliation. However, Kirby Dick's account of his appeals process says a priest and a Presbyterian minister attended his appeals — and he never really learned why.
- Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The film tries to show the MPAA as a Real Life example with an emphasis on vagueness (saying that it's more vague than the CIA). According to other sources, filmmakers can try to hazard a guess as to why their film received a particular rating and edit accordingly, but... well, to use a popular stereotype as an analogy, the MPAA is like a woman telling her boyfriend that if he doesn't know what he did to piss her off, he doesn't deserve to be told. Trey Parker says he received the "vagueness" treatment with his independently-financed comedy Orgazmo, but got an itemized list of things to tweak when he and Matt Stone submitted the studio-backed South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, which initially received an NC-17... and they later regretted only giving an R.
- One Judge to Rule Them All: According to many of the interviewed directors, MPAA president Jack Valenti had absolute veto power when it came to ratings decisions. He used it quite often as well.
- Refuge in Audacity: During the process of submitting the film to the MPAA for a rating, the director flat-out asked the ratings board what they thought of the film itself. The ratings board evaded the question.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: A section of the film talks about how independent films receive harsher treatment than studio-backed films (this includes Trey Parker recalling the hassles he went through with Orgazmo, as mentioned above).
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: The film offers this up as one interpretation of the MPAA ratings board.