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Pure Flix Entertainment, the family-friendly label known for distributing God’s Not Dead and a few dozen other movies aimed at Christians, will release its first R-rated film next month — and it is none too happy about having to do so.
The film, Unplanned, tells the true story of Abby Johnson, who defected from Planned Parenthood to become a pro-life activist. While the filmmakers were certain they were making a PG-13 film, the MPAA has informed them that it will, in fact, be rated R unless all scenes of abortions are removed or altered.
The filmmakers are refusing to change anything, putting Pure Flix in the awkward position of having to open an R-rated movie on March 29. The company’s other releases, roughly two dozen movies, were all rated G, PG or PG-13.
“A 15-year old girl can get an abortion without her parent’s permission, but she can’t see this movie without adult supervision? That’s sad,” said Ken Rather, executive vp distribution for Pure Flix.
The situation prompted the filmmakers to fire off a letter of complaint to MPAA CEO Charles Rivkin.
“We consider the MPAA’s current standards to be deeply flawed, insofar as they allow scenes of remarkably graphic sex, violence, degradation, murder and mayhem to have a PG-13 rating, whereas our film, highlighting the grave dangers of abortion in a straightforward manner, is considered dangerous for the American people to view,” wrote Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, the co-writers and co-directors of Unplanned.
Pure Flix says not only will it not alter the film to get a PG-13 rating, but it also won’t officially appeal the decision, as it worries it would delay its distribution efforts to have the movie’s rating up in limbo. Also, appeals are historically a long shot. In 2017, for example, the MPAA rated 563 movies — five were appealed and only one was changed, that being Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris, which originally was an R before the appeal brought it down to PG-13.
The MPAA says the R-rating on Unplanned was for “some disturbing/bloody images” and was in no way politically motivated. Its process involves a ratings board of about 10 people from all walks of life — all of whom have children — voting and debating until they come to a majority agreement.
“Any film submitter who objects to the given rating can choose to go through the appeals process. To date, the distributor has chosen not to,” an MPAA spokesperson said about Unplanned. “Our rules provide a detailed timeline for the appeals process. There was sufficient time for it to be completed in advance of the film’s March 29 release.”
The MPAA told Pure Flix that the most problematic scene featured a doctor gazing at a computer screen that shows the image of a fetus as the abortion is completed. The doctor in the scene is real-life Dr. Anthony Levatino, who says he has performed about 1,200 abortions over the years.
“The portrayal of a live, moving fetus disappearing is very accurate,” Levatino said. “You’re watching an abortion. It’s an accurate view of what’s happening. It’s disturbing if you recognize it’s a human life.”
Added Solomon: “We have three scenes in the film which directly address abortion, and the MPAA objected to all three. They specifically made mention of objection to grainy, black-and-white sonogram images that were part of one of the scenes. It was clear that any meaningful treatment of the issue was going to be objectionable.”
The MPAA’s ratings board changes often, making it tough to predict its sensibilities on controversial social issues. In 1996, for example, it gave an R-rating to If These Walls Could Talk due to “realistic depiction of abortions, a graphic shooting and some language.”
But for Unplanned, the MPAA doesn’t mention “realistic depiction of abortions” as being a cause for the restrictive rating, and there is no profane language, nudity, violence, drug abuse or anything else that moviegoers typically associate with the R rating, says Pure Flix and the filmmakers.
“This story needs to be told and the message needed to be delivered,” said PureFlix president Michael Scott. “It is our calling as Christians to tell the story about the moral implications of abortion that the mainstream media refuses to acknowledge.”
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