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MPAA movie ratings: New initiative to assist parents gets mixed reviews

Dubbed Check the Box, the movie ratings campaign is designed to give parents more and faster information about how a film got its rating. The White House had requested action along these lines.

By Staff writer / April 17, 2013



Los Angeles

With concerns over real-life violence at a high pitch, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) says it wants to help, at least when it comes to the moviegoing experience.

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On Tuesday, the MPAA unveiled a new ratings initiative: Dubbed Check the Box, the campaign is designed to give parents more and faster information about how a film got its rating of PG or higher. All the various specifics about violence, language, or sexual content will now be prominently displayed alongside the letter rating in large type.

The newest changes to the letter system, which has been in place since 1990, were presented by the MPAA head, former Sen. Christopher Dodd. The changes are for parents, "so they can make the best choices about what movies are right for their children to watch," he said at CinemaCon, an annual trade gathering of some 5,000 theater owners in Las Vegas.

The updates to the ratings display come on the heels of specific request from the White House for stricter appraisals of movie and TV violence, as well as for help as parents try to monitor the violence children consume.

But the announcement is getting mixed reviews, at best.

“I am not sure that more specific MPAA ratings about violence will actually do anything, but I think it is a good idea,” writes Paul Schneider, chairman of the film and television department at Boston University, in an e-mail.

“The ratings have always concentrated on sexuality and language and have been very, very soft on violence,” he adds.

“Any information that is accurate is good for parents,” says Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council (PTC), a national advocacy group pushing for what he calls “transparency, consistency, and accountability” from the entertainment industry.

However, he dubs the changes “a distinction without a difference.” Mr. Winter suggests that the MPAA move is a public-relations effort to deflect scrutiny while “continuing to pour toxic levels of violence into PG-13 films.”

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