Ira Sach’s film Love Is Strange is getting great reviews and there’s hope it will do decent business over the weekend in the US. However, while it contains no sex, nudity or violence, it’s been given a ‘R’ rating by the MPAA, in a decision some are calling homophobic.
It’s not the first time the US ratings board has been accused of homophobia – indeed nearly every gay-themed film that come their way seems to get a more restrictive rating that it would have had if it had featured straight characters. For example last year the teen comedy GBF was given an ‘R’ rating, despite being less racy than many straight films given a ‘PG-13’ classification.
The ‘R’ rating means nobody under the age of 17 can see the film unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Love Is Strange is being released in the US at the same time as Sin City: A Dame To Kill For and Jersey Shore massacre, both of which contain nudity, sexual situations and lots of graphic violence.
However Stephen Whitty of the New Jersey Star-Ledger notes, ‘Also opening is “Love Is Strange.” There is no nudity. There are no sexual situations. The drug or alcohol material mostly consists of adults having wine with dinner, or cocktails at a bar. There is no violence or gore. There are several scenes of men kissing, and two scenes of a gay couple sleeping together, fully clothed, in bed. It is rated R.
If there’s an equivalence among these three films, and their equal unsuitability for anyone under 17, it’s lost on me — and, I suspect, on anyone but the censors at the MPAA.’
Part of the problem with the MPAA rating system is a hangover from the way it was created. Historically the most vociferous voice against sex and violence in film was the Catholic Church, which was instrumental in forcing Hollywood to adopt the Production Code in the 1930s and to adopt the modern rating system after the Production Code collapsed in the 1960s. To help stop the Catholic Bishops publicising their own ratings (which inevitably suggested most movies were depraved) and lobbying for the Government to step in and force Hollywood to accept its ratings/censorship system, the MPAA agreed that religious representatives would be part of the new ratings board.
Although the MPAA is still unwilling to say who exactly it is that rates movie – beyond vague ideas about those involved being family friendly – it is known the board still includes religious representatives, including those from the Catholic faith who are unlikely to be friendly to gay content. It’s also true that unlike many countries’ ratings system, there are no specific guidelines as to what different sorts of content should be given which rating in the US.
All this tends to ensure that gay content gets a more restrictive rating, simply because the make-up of the rating board is likely to lean towards those who don’t like gay content.
The official reason the MPAA has given for Love Is Strange’s ‘R’ rating is ‘Language’, although as Whitty says, ‘It is very hard to imagine that — if it starred, say, Robert Duvall and Jane Fonda as a similar long-time couple suddenly facing homelessness — it would be lumped in with movies crammed full of queasily stylish sexism and sickening torture porn.”
That’s especially true when the violence of The Expendables 3 and many of this summer’s blockbuster was given a ‘PG-13’ rating. In a week where the reality of brutal violence has been brought home to many around the world, the MPAA suggests it’s fine for teens to watch an endless succession of human lives being snuffed out on-screen without parental supervision, but John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as an aging, married gay couple is too much for them.