‘Dagenham’ producer protests ‘R’ rating

Posted by · 7:01 am · November 10th, 2010

The delicate folks at the MPAA have come in for a right old bollocking in the past few weeks, and deservedly so. First came the furore over the baffling ‘NC-17’ rating they awarded “Blue Valentine” — a lemon of a situation that Harvey Weinstein, to judge from the steamy poster unveiled yesterday, has decided to make into lemonade.

Another of Weinstein’s babies, “The King’s Speech,” also got the brunt of the ratings board’s conservatism when it was slapped with an ‘R’ for a brief torrent of narratively contextualized four-letter words — despite having a fair claim to being the most mild-mannered prestige drama of the year.

We all know that bad things, like Kardashian sisters, come in threes, so we didn’t have long to wait before the next eruption over MPAA idiocy, and once more, the film at the center of it is a calculatedly inoffensive true-life Britpic. Despite having the kind of cheery inspirational message that young girls and their grandmothers alike can appreciate, feminist dramedy “Made in Dagenham” has received an ‘R’ rating for “language and brief sexuality,” referring respectively to a scattering of f-words and some gentle, clothed innuendo.

The filmmakers may as well have stuck with the original, racier title of “We Want Sex,” for all the good their attempts to tone things down did them.

It’s a harsh verdict on an adult-targeted but nonetheless family-friendly film, and “Dagenham” producer Elizabeth Karlsen has made no bones about her dismay at the rating. Through the website Women & Hollywood, she issued the following statement railing against the MPAA’s decision, including “The King’s Speech” in her cause:

As a mother of three teenage girls, the youngest of whom is 13, I am both deeply saddened and bewildered that the censors dictate that it is inappropriate for my 13 year to see a film about a decisive moment in women’s history, the fight for equal pay, full of positive role models.

There are so few films about women, so few films where women are not simply minor players, ‘eye candy’ or objects of violence in a story about men. ‘Made In Dagenham’ is one of the few and it has been embraced for this very reason. I can not believe that any parent, grandparent or teacher would prefer their 13 year old daughter to see a film like ‘Saw’ rather than ‘Made In Dagenham’. There is a handful of swear words in the film, but none of it is used in an abusive manor [sic]. It is there as an element of authenticity reflecting the period and people.

Bad language in films must surely be considered by the censors in the context of the story and the images used to tell that story. It is absurd that stories like ‘Made In Dagenham’ and ‘The King’s Speech’ are barred to children under 13 in favour of violent films and when I say violent I mean extremely not moderately violent. I take the censors’ view as an indictment of my parenting skills. I know that ‘Saw’ is absolutely not the sort of film I want my young daughter to see, but I know that ‘Made In Dagenham’ and ‘The Kings Speech’ are two films that she absolutely should be seeing. They are both positive, empowering, educational, enlightening and entertaining films, beautifully executed, about people finding a voice and making the world a better place. How can that be a bad thing for a society which deems itself civilised?

The article doesn’t mention whether the film’s producers will be appealing the rating, making the cuts necessary to earn a ‘PG-13’ or simply accepting their lot — the last of those options, I presume. But this conversation will keep resurfacing until the MPAA reassesses their standards and accepts, among other things, that the simple slur “fuck,” shorn of context, can’t be deemed a ratings deal-breaker anymore.

[Photo: Sony Pictures Classics]

→ 27 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

27 responses so far

  • 1 11-10-2010 at 7:18 am

    James D. said...

    I understand the uproar over the NC-17, and no one disapproves of the weird morals of the MPAA more than me, but how many sixteen year olds, or even younger, have an interest in The King’s Speech and Made in Dagenham, anyway?

  • 2 11-10-2010 at 7:24 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Not many, but that’s not really the point — hence my “adult-targeted but family-friendly” qualifier. I know both are the kind of film my parents might have taken me to see as a kid, and shouldn’t have been prevented from doing so.

  • 3 11-10-2010 at 7:29 am

    Ben M. said...

    I wonder if a lot of this is just an attempt to gain publicity for the films by fighting ratings that are at least somewhat deserved. In the podcast a few weeks back Anne Thompson said she figured Blue Valentine for a NC-17 in its current form due to the sexuality guidelines, and I cannot recall a single film with more than 40 “F” words getting a PG-13 as King’s Speech hoped to receive.

    Granted, I haven’t seen these films but I did feel The Tillman Story (one of the other disputed ratings) deserved its R for fairly consistent profanity, while the non-oscar chasing Monsters would’ve had a much clearer case for a lower rating with only a fraction of the profanity. Even last year I heard no objections from Tom Hooper when The Damned United got an R for language despite about as many “F” words as King’s Speech has.

  • 4 11-10-2010 at 7:44 am

    Ben M. said...

    One other quick point about this ratings- while it always bothers me when people bring young children to violent films (I can think of Saw 3D, The Expendables, and Piranha as such films this year with multiple children under 10 in attendance) the rating itself doesn’t have to be an end-all. Certainly I don’t have as big a problem with bringing kids to a film that gets an R just for language than for sex and/or violence, but some people do object to profanity which is why the ratings list descriptors.

  • 5 11-10-2010 at 8:14 am

    Keil Shults said...

    Movies with a “scattering of F-words” always get an R-rating. What’s the problem?

    If she wants teenage girsl to see the movie (good luck with that), why not trim and/or alter the profanity?

  • 6 11-10-2010 at 8:16 am

    Keil Shults said...

    Jesus, what is it about this site that makes me commit typos? It’s Girls, not girsl.

  • 7 11-10-2010 at 8:30 am

    amanda said...

    The MPAA also gave “How do you know” and R rating for language. Are they trying to bring back “gosh” and “golly”?

  • 8 11-10-2010 at 8:39 am

    Maxim said...

    “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” must have been the mildest “R” rated film ever. Now that was a film that could easity have been rated “PG-13”.

  • 9 11-10-2010 at 8:42 am

    Keil Shults said...

    Have you seen “How Do You Know?” Do you know what profane words are used in it, or how frequently? I don’t think them rating a film R for (what might be) some pretty harsh language automatically means that they’re trying to bring back phrases like “gee whiz” or “jiminy jilickers.” Must so many people see things as black and white these days?

  • 10 11-10-2010 at 8:46 am

    Keil Shults said...

    Personally, I’m glad that most of the films I usually want to see (the Oscar hopefuls, arthouse fare, etc.) tend to be Rated R. Being in a theaterful of kids is usually a nightmare. Of course, after spending most of my life in extreme south Texas, mere miles from the Mexican border, I must admit that adults can be just as loud and annoying.

  • 11 11-10-2010 at 8:47 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    In fairness, your earlier comment — “Movies with a “scattering of F-words” always get an R-rating. What’s the problem?” — was itself a pretty black-and-white statement.

    Context is all.

  • 12 11-10-2010 at 8:48 am

    red_wine said...

    I honestly don’t see why fucks should get a film an R rating. Its just ‘fuck’ for heaven’s sake. Children hear it (and even blurt it out) often enough for it not to damage their precious sacred ears.

    I believe in continental Europe (France etc) they never give a film a higher rating for ‘fuck’. I believe that is how it should be.

    Though I’ve heard that ratings in America are more like suggestions by the government body than rigidly enforced. Is it actually so?

  • 13 11-10-2010 at 8:53 am

    James D. said...

    You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger was rated R? Wow.

    Guy, I am not sure if I am reading you wrong or if you are mistaken about an R rating, but parents can take a child to an R rated film.

    The almost automatic R rating for the word fuck always amuses me. By the time I was ten years old, me and my friends fit the word into every other sentence. What teenager doesn’t swear to the point of excess long before they are old enough to see it on a movie?

  • 14 11-10-2010 at 8:55 am

    James D. said...

    red_wine: Technically, the whole MPAA process is voluntary, but as a practical matter, you need to get it rated to be shown in major theaters.

  • 15 11-10-2010 at 8:56 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    James D: You’re right, I’m confusing it with the more restrictive UK ratings system. Still, I think it’s fair to say a lot of parents regard an R-rating as a no-go for family viewing.

  • 16 11-10-2010 at 9:21 am

    daveylow said...

    I’ve seen Made in Dagenham and The King’s Speech and believe me, no teenager would be disturbed by anything in either of these two films. The profanity in TKS happens in an isolated section of the film and is used for humor and to make a point about the character.

    Really this ratings board needs to get out more.

  • 17 11-10-2010 at 9:34 am

    BrianA said...

    red_wine: Also, the MPAA is in no way associated with the U.S. government. It is an industry association designed to help the public assess what is supposedly appropriate for general audiences, teens, etc.

  • 18 11-10-2010 at 9:50 am

    Ella said...

    I agree that some parents might regard an “R” as no-go for family viewing, but many responsible parents still take the time to research why a film received that rating (easy to do, it’s listed right in the ads) , and then make an informed evaluation about its suitability for their kids. I always did this with mine. Certainly some won’t go to the trouble, but any parent who would take a kid to see TKS or Dagenham would be the type to check out the rating reason beforehand.

  • 19 11-10-2010 at 11:21 am

    Keil Shults said...

    Don’t know if I said something to offend or antagonize you, Guy, but I was just pointing out that most films with multipe F-words end up getting an R rating. I’m not saying I think such films should be rated more severely than some PG-13 films that have a lot of violence.

  • 20 11-10-2010 at 11:26 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Neither offended nor antagonised.

  • 21 11-10-2010 at 3:07 pm

    Rashad said...

    “I can not believe that any parent, grandparent or teacher would prefer their 13 year old daughter to see a film like ‘Saw’ rather than ‘Made In Dagenham’”

    Except that isn’t what the case is, and the fact that Saw is ALSO rated R negates her point. If she wants her 13 yr old to see it, take her. I guarantee she wouldn’t go on her own.

    I’m tired of the MPAA hate now. You know the rules by now. Don’t complain when it happens.

  • 22 11-10-2010 at 6:41 pm

    mikhael said...

    maybe we need two sub rating: mild R and strong R.
    for films that fit between, so the movies don’t need to be edited or trimmed down.

  • 23 11-10-2010 at 9:57 pm

    Cordy said...

    Just the fact that more than one ‘fuck’ automatically gets a film an R rating is truly ridiculous. It means any film with realistic language that is not a kids movie gets an R.

    TV has slowly changed the rules over language, and are now fairly relaxed during primetime (yes I know they still cant say ‘fuck’, but a couple years ago you couldn’t say ‘shit,’ and now it is pretty prevalent on cable. Yes I know the systems are completely different, but one is realizing that most people are not offended by language now.

    When i was 10 my parents took me to see Jerry Maguire because they thought it was a great film that I should be exposed to. They covered my eyes during the one sex scene, and the rest was just language. Yes, parents should be informed, but the rules on language need to be changed.

  • 24 11-11-2010 at 5:10 pm

    MJS said...

    There are legitimate reasons to get angry with the MPAA over some of their NC-17 ratings, but I get a bit annoyed when people start protesting things that get R-ratings like this.

    Having 40 F-words in your movie is going to get you an R-rating, it’s a simple rule, if you don’t want an R don’t make a movie with that much swearing, end of story.

    I don’t necessarily like the “one F-bomb = automatic R” rule, but I also don’t want the MPAA making exceptions for movies like these just because they seem expensive and prestige-y. The minute they start telling Harvey Weinstien that he doesn’t have to follow the same rules as, say, David Mamet, because one makes Oscar bait while the other makes “lowly garbage” you’re just asking for trouble.

  • 25 11-11-2010 at 5:14 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I wasn’t sitting there counting or anything, but I’d be stunned if there are as many 40 “fucks” in Made in Dagenham. It’s a film where the insult “he’s a complete cock” is seen as a slight transgression.

  • 26 11-11-2010 at 5:37 pm

    MJS said...

    I think The Kings Speech is the one with the 40 fucks (counts vary because he’s stuttering through some of them), Dagenham has about 16-17, or so a Google search has led me to believe.

  • 27 3-20-2011 at 4:10 pm

    Christine said...

    I’m fourteen, and I know a lot of kids at my school who saw the King’s Speech with their families. I did, too. It really didn’t deserve an ‘R’ rating. Sure, they said the ‘f’ word about forty times, but most of it was constricted to one scene, and it wasn’t intense whatsoever. As for Made in Dagenham, I’ve been wanting to see it for awhile, and from what I’ve heard, it doesn’t sound like it should’ve been rated ‘R’ either.