Everyone agrees it should be a PG movie, but they can’t agree on why …

The controversy over Facing the Giants — the Christian football movie that received a PG rating (gasp!) for its “thematic elements” (double gasp!) — is now officially out of control.

On June 21, the Los Angeles Times reported that the MPAA had received over 15,000 e-mails protesting the film’s PG rating during the previous week alone — a figure that may be ten times bigger than any previous reaction to a ratings decision.

And now the federal government’s throwing its weight around. Republican House Majority Whip Roy Blunt wrote a letter to MPAA chairman and CEO Dan Glickman, in which he stated, “This incident raises the disquieting possibility that MPAA considers exposure to Christian themes more dangerous for children than exposure to gratuitous sex and mindless violence.”

Of course, that’s a pretty ignorant remark; as I noted here two weeks ago, PG-rated films are actually pretty rare, and gratuitous sex and mindless violence almost always get at least a PG-13.

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that Blunt and others had a meeting with the MPAA, and came away unsatisfied:

After meeting with MPAA officials, Blunt and a handful of other House members said they remain concerned about the subjective native of the ratings process.

“I’m not satisfied,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who attended the meeting with Blunt. “We probably will want to revisit this ratings process to have some commonality in the standards that exist for movies, videos and video games.”

Blackburn said she wants the House Energy and Commerce Committee to hold hearings on the issue later this year.

Blunt also brought up a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health that found that the MPAA standards on sex and violence in movies have been getting weaker.

“Mr. Blunt does continue to have questions about the process by which `Facing the Giants’ was rated and what that says about ratings creep in general,” spokeswoman Burson Taylor said Friday.

Well, sure, there might very well be a lot of stuff in PG-13 movies these days that might have once earned an R. (Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, first released in 1960, was rated the equivalent of PG in 1968, then re-rated R in 1984 — right around the time the PG-13 was invented.) On the other hand, it seems to me that the MPAA has been getting stricter with at least some forms of violence.

In the early days of the ratings system, virtually every movie that showed a crucifixion was rated G, even if it had other forms of violence, too; the list includes Ben-Hur (a 1959 film re-issued in 1969), The Greatest Story Ever Told (a 1965 film re-issued in 1972), Godspell (1973), The Gospel Road (1973), even the controversial and slightly drug-addled Jesus Christ Superstar (1973). Apparently the religious content made it all okay.

On the other hand, more recently, historical and biblical films like The Gospel of John (2003), Spartacus (a 1960 film re-issued in 1991) and King of Kings (a 1961 film that was not submitted for a rating until it was released on DVD in 2004) have been rated PG-13 for their violence. In addition, Campus Crusade’s Jesus was rated G in 1979, but when elements of that film were edited into The Story of Jesus for Children in 2000, the resulting film was rated PG “for some violent and thematic elements.”

So, religion and evangelization no longer get a free pass. And I can’t say I have a problem with that — especially since there is no practical difference between the G, PG and PG-13 ratings anyway. Kids can still buy tickets to any of those films without adult accompaniment, and without doing anything sneaky.

What makes this whole kerfuffle even stupider is that all the key players agree that the movie should be rated PG for other reasons anyway. The Hill reports that Kris Fuhr, vice president of marketing for Provident, the firm that made Facing the Giants, “expected a PG rating because of other parts of the story but was surprised when the MPAA ratings board brought up the religious themes.” And the MPAA has, indeed, been pointing to those other story elements — infertility, etc. — in defense of its decision.

But Facing the Giants director/star Alex Kendrick seems to think Christianity should still get special treatment. ABC News says:

Some say the MPAA should warn parents whether a film has overtly religious overtones. One of the filmmakers said he’d want to be warned if his children were going to see a film with a pro-Islamic message.

“But our country wasn’t founded on Islamic values,” Kendrick said. “It was founded on Judeo-Christian values.”

Personally, I can sympathize with Kendrick’s desire to see PG ratings on films that are designed to persuade my children to adopt religious beliefs other than the beliefs that I am raising them with at home. But, gee, is it really so hard to see that this principle ought to be applied evenly, and fairly, across the board?

Oh, and I love the irony pointed out by James Evans in his column on the hubbub for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Don Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, attacked the rating as a direct assault on the faith. Wildmon’s group distributed an e-message under the headline, “MPAA places Christianity in same category as sex, violence, profanity.” In the message Wildmon accuses the MPAA of telling parents that the film is “objectionable.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the truth. The PG rating is designed to alert parents that certain themes or ideas may not be appropriate for children. It says nothing about teenagers over the age of 13 (presumably a target audience for a film about high school football). All the PG rating does is say to parents, “You might want to look at this before allowing your child to view it.”

Isn’t that what Christian groups are always telling parents to do? In fact, isn’t that precisely what the American Family Association does every week with its bulletins about what’s objectionable on television? The PG rating is not an indictment on Christianity. It is merely a flag for parents of children to be sure they know what’s going on.

Yeah, exactly. Methinks it’s high time everyone just chilled out.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11340006144797496514 RC

    This is good stuff…thanks for doing all the back work and collecting this information putting it in one place.

    Obviously, it’s PG…the producers need to move along…more and more movies have that branding these days anyways…maybe if there stamping PG-13 for religious films, but there engaging the culture but frusterated when the culture isn’t playing by there rules.

    –RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15729167937433295927 Geosomin

    heh heh…whenever I see PG as a rating I think of what my Mom always thought PG stood for (she * Dad do not go to movies…). She figured the ratingg system was to help you decide how good the film was and if you wanted to see it.

    She asked me once “PG is for PRETTY GOOD right?”

    Needless to say my milk came out my nose…

  • http://www.jslweb.com/blog Stephen

    Besides all that, I have a problem with christians declaring that the Gospel is safe and inoffensive, something Christ never taught.

    I wonder what this film will show. A faith that helps you win football games? No thanks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07395937367596387523 Peter T Chattaway

    Geosomin wrote:
    She asked me once “PG is for PRETTY GOOD right?”

    Heh. Just wondering, have they always had the PG rating in Saskatchewan? In B.C., when I was growing up, we had a “Mature” rating which was only replaced by the PG rating about a decade ago, IIRC.

    Incidentally, the government-run B.C. ratings board has usually been a fair bit more lenient than the industry-run MPAA ratings board. For example, Al Gore’s global-warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth is rated PG in the States for “mild thematic elements”, whereas it is rated G in B.C. with no advisory whatsoever. Likewise Wordplay, a new documentary about crossword puzzles, which is rated PG in the States for “some language and mild thematic elements” and G in B.C. with no advisory whatsoever.

    Stephen wrote:
    Besides all that, I have a problem with christians declaring that the Gospel is safe and inoffensive, something Christ never taught.

    Good point! In fact, didn’t Jesus say that he came to bring a sword between parents and children, etc.? That’s the sort of remark that would have earned him a “parental guidance” rating back in the day. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16585448294140456816 Alan Chattaway

    In the 1950s the censors in my part of Africa had a choice of two restrictive ratings: “No children 6-16″ and “No children 4-12″. I could understand why some films would be OK at 13 and others at 17, but I never did fathom why 4 was paired with 12, and 6 with 16.

    As for PG, that wasn’t a movie rating; it meant “pregnant”.


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