'The King's' Dirty Speech Cusses Out the MPAA
The R-rating the MPAA slapped on The King’s Speech shouldn’t hurt its Oscar chances. If anything, it gives the decorous costume drama a little edge and puts it in good company -- the past six best picture Oscar winners were all rated R. But it hasn’t done anything for the MPAA’s own reputation. Yes, the King (Colin Firth) spouts barnyard epithets as an exercise to overcome his stutter, but he’s only so he can give a rousing oration to beat Hitler.
“Another Bad Call from the MPAA,” lamented influential Movie Mom blogger Nell Minow (daughter of FCC chairman Newton Minow, who gave the famous 1961 “vast wasteland” speech about TV). “I don't think there's any reason for the idiotic rules they have on language except that it's so easily quantifiable,” Minow tells the Race. “The MPAA operates like a star chamber of secrecy and insularity.”
Minow submits four demands:
1. Transparency about who is on the board and what their backgrounds are.
2. Include some people with expertise in child development and media literacy and maybe the PTA or someplace like that.
3. Term Limits -- those people have seen so many Saw movies they have lost their sense of what is appropriate.
4. Some right of appeal when a rating is clearly out of whack.
Actually, the MPAA does have an appeals process in place, but onward ... L.A. Times man Patrick Goldstein railed, “To call the decision crazy and unhinged would be to let the MPAA off too lightly. Its ratings decisions, which frown on almost any sort of sex, frontal nudity or bad language but have allowed increasing amounts of violence over the years, are horribly out of touchwith mainstream America.”
Kirby Dick, director of the classic, hilarious 2006 MPAA expose This Film is Not Yet Rated, explains that “One 'fuck' is OK, two is not. There's no substantiation that language in any away harms children. There's a lot of evidence that violence does.” But Dick says counting dirty words is one of the few nonsubjective rules MPAA enforces, “because they don't want Senators and Representatives to hear complaints from conservative constituents and be less likely to vote for much more important things for studios, like intellectual property legislation. They're not doing it because they're concerned with parents, really.”
“A much better solution is a system that actually gives parents information,” says Dick. “Say what each film contains -- sex, drug use, violence, profane language -- and let them refer to their own values.”
Or perhaps there should be two ratings systems, one for conservatives, one for nonconservatives, the way we now how two entirely separate broadcast news systems. What possible rating of anything could please both Fox and Jon Stewart viewers? We now live, perhaps permanently, in two distinct cultural nations, not one.
Dick doubts MPAA will ever be open to any common-sense suggestions for reform. “It's the fox guarding the henhouse behind closed doors.” To use a euphemism that saved Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox from an R rating, MPAA is “cussing with us.” And its latest victim may be The King's Speech.
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Scott Feinberg, the lead awards analyst for The Hollywood Reporter, is one of the entertainment industry's most experienced and trusted experts about the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys. He started on the awards beat in 2001, writing for independent websites including his own ScottFeinberg.com before joining the Los Angeles Times and then THR, for which he writes “The Race” blog, which won the LA Press Club’s National Entertainment Journalism Award for best entertainment blog of 2012-2013. A voting member of both the Broadcast Film Critics' Association and Broadcast Television Journalists Association, he is also writing a book about film history for young people for which he has interviewed more than 500 high-profile Hollywood figures whose careers span the silent era through the present.
Follow Scott on Twitter at twitter.com/scottfeinberg.