Art: CC, Corporate Colour. Edits: Kim Wiens.

Movie ratings focus too much on sex, rather than violence

The latest Marvel release, Deadpool, broke several records for R-rated movies, including highest grossing opening weekend for an R-rated movie. With the release of such a successful movie, that wears its R rating as comfortably as Deadpool wears red spandex, it’s the perfect time to talk about the problems with movie ratings.

But more specifically, the inherent penalties the rating system in the United States assigns to movies that feature sex and foul language, while taking a casual stance toward violence.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) sets ratings for all the movies that are shown or released in America. Canadian ratings are decided by provincial authorities, but much of the same criteria are applied nationwide.

The scale in America is G, PG, PG-13, R, and a rarely used NC-17. Canada uses a G, PG, 14A, 18A, and R. The Canadian system allows for greater distinction between certain aspects of movies, with 14A and 18A routinely being given to movies rated R in the U.S. Having two tiers at the higher end allows for a greater distinction between movies. Love Actually, for example, was rated R by the MPAA but only a 14A by many groups in Canada.

Without that extra level to differentiate, Love Actually gets stuck with the same rating as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Saw, but for entirely different reasons.

Rating movies on the upper end of the scale because of sexual content ignores the impact that violence and other dark themes can have on people . Children especially are at risk of seeing violence as natural and being desensitized to it according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Movies like Taken and The Dark Knight were both rated PG-13 by the MPAA, even though the themes of their movies were much darker. Love Actually’s themes of love, togetherness and holiday magic are apparently a worse influence than Taken’s all-out, whatever it takes, ends justify the means vengeance.

Doesn’t it make sense for a rating system to give higher warnings for violence than for a natural, often non-malicious human activity?

Many other countries already operate quite happily under a different system. The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) will deem a movie suitable for all ages if it shows kissing and brief nudity—criteria that would in North America be assigned at least a PG, if not a PG-13.

Movie ratings are important as they should provide an accurate representation of the content, so parents can make informed decisions about what their children watch.

However, acts of violence towards others should not be more accessible to viewers than media that features the human body and one of its many natural functions. What kind of message does that send to viewers?