The Cops of the MPAA's Ratings Board Are a Bunch of Moms and Dads

Image: MGM/UA

The Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings board CARA (Classification and Ratings Administration) is kind of like the coven of witches that run Suspiria’s dance school: They operate in secrecy, the rationale behind their actions is not particularly clear, their headquarters is reachable by a secret passage that an outsider could only access by eavesdropping and counting paces, and they will literally pull you apart with hooks. Well, most of that is true, at any rate.


The MPAA’s ratings board is what determines the classification of movie’s letter ratings (G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17). While this is technically a voluntary system, unrated movies generally won’t get picked up by as many theaters as rated movies do. In an attempt to maximize profits and be seen by a wide audience that includes kids and teens, studios and filmmakers often aim for a PG-13 rating, acquiescing to the MPAA’s unspecified by observable criteria for that rating. That (presumably) leads to the bloodless dismemberment (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) and beheadings (Venom), and felicitously chosen F-bombs in mass entertainment. (General rule of thumb is: More than two instances of the word “fuck” land an R rating.) The MPAA can also basically condemn a film to failure by giving it the NC-17 rating (Showgirls is the highest grossing NC-17-rated movie, and its domestic gross at the box office, $20 million, was $25 million less than its budget).

The ratings board operates in such secrecy that a 2006 documentary about it, This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated, made it seem something like a cult. A new report released by the association, in tandem with an interview in the Los Angeles Times, has shed a little bit more light on the board, at least as it stands in its current iteration. (It’s been long known that the rating’s board is made up of parents.) Reports the Times:

Although the names of a few senior raters are publicly known, the majority of the board continues to operate in anonymity in order to insulate the decision-making process from outside influence. The MPAA said the rating board is composed of eight to 13 raters who are parents. With the exception of senior raters, members must have children ages 5 to 15 when they join, and must leave when their children reach 21. They can serve as long as seven years.

Currently, there are nine full-time and part-time raters, consisting of five mothers and four fathers who come from California, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Maryland and Hawaii, according to the report.

Among the jobs they have held are positions in finance, social work, construction, education, customer service and chiropractic care.

The paper also says the board lives in the Los Angeles area and watch movies together. They cast their first ratings votes without discussing, though they do discuss the results once tabulated.

And while it seems like there’s an abundance of middling PG-13 movies, according to the MPAA’s data, PG-13 has consistently been the third most popular rating since the mid-’90s. R-rated movies account for 58 percent of movies evaluated by the MPAA. PG then comes in second with 18 percent.

Some Pig. Terrific. Radiant. Humble.



I wonder how the continued moves toward being able to stream movies online near-instantly (along with Netflix, Amazon, and others move toward in-house movies) will effect the CARA. It seems like an institution that might find itself obsolete, or at least requiring massive overhaul, soon. It is both famously opaque and rather conservative, and doesn’t seem to keep up with the average movie-going audience. I rarely check the rating for a movie I am going to see, and The Google makes it pretty easy for parent to tell if something is kiddo-appropriate or not without listening to what some random mom in Ohio thinks.