Most countries have some sort of classification system for films, but they differ wildly in what things they think should get a movie a higher rating. For many years it’s been noted that in the US, the MPAA treats anything even vaguely gay much more harshly than they do straight things.
That certainly seems true of the teen flick G.B.F. (Gay Best Friend) which was saddled with an ‘R’ rating in the US, despite having no sex, violence or nudity. The movie’s director, Darren Stein, is understandably annoyed that his relatively innocent movie has been lumped in alongside the R rated likes of Saw and Shame.
He says on Facebook, ‘I always thought of G.B.F. as a PG-13 movie, but we were given an R “For Sexual References” while not having a single F-bomb, hint of nudity or violence in the film. Perhaps the ratings box should more accurately read “For Homosexual References” or “Too Many Scenes of Gay Teens Kissing.” I look forward to a world where queer teens can express their humor and desire in a sweet, fun teen film that doesn’t get tagged with a cautionary R.’
Unlike many ratings systems that work from published guidelines saying exactly what will and won’t be accepted at different levels (many of which explicitly state they will treat gay and straight content on an equal footing), the MPAA system is more oblique, relying on the subjective opinions and prejudices of its raters. There’s not even complete openness about who does the rating, other than the MPAA saying it’s groups of parents. It’s also known religious representatives are involved in setting the standards.
This has led to a pretty uneven and discriminatory system, where gay themes are treated much more harshly than straight ones, independent studios tend to get tougher ratings than studios, male nudity is worse than female nudity, and sex is much much worse than violence. It gets away with it as it’s a voluntary, industry led system, which is more interested in preventing the government from imposing a compulsory system that they have no control over than ensuring fairness and parity.
As such, it’s very difficult for gay films as they won’t get any mainstream cinema play without an MPAA rating, but unless it’s a movie that should legitimately be rated R, the likelihood of a restrictive rating will hurt a movie’s commercial chances anyway. For example, G.B.F. is aimed at a teen audience, but as things stand in the US, those under 17 can only go if accompanied by an adult, despite the fact the worst they’ll see in it is some guys kissing. There’s not even any strong bad language.