Why the MPAA has no clue what is “appropriate” for kids

Got this email about “Whale Rider” as I’m making a list of movies centered on awesome girl characters:


This wouldn’t meet your criterion of ages 2 through 8.  But as your girls get older, you might consider Whale Rider:


Movie is a story of a young Maori girl in New Zealand who cannot become the tribal chief because she is female.  It was not only the best “children’s film” of that year (2002)–I thought it was the best film, period.  The young actress playing the lead was nominated for an Oscar.  Rated PG-13 because one of the girl’s older, male Maori relatives was clearly a drug addict, although kids might not even understand the message that was being conveyed about drug use.


I completely forgot about this movie. I loved it. I saw it before I had kids, so I will see it again before showing it to them, but the reason Tom gives for it being rated PG– a relative is a drug addict– is not something that would stop me. I’d have to see it of course, but I  doubt the drug addict relative is shown in a positive light.

But here is my question: Why is a supporting role of a guy who is probably messing up his life doing drugs supposedly damaging for my daughter to see, but it’s just great for her to watch another girl showing her belly button, brushing her hair, and literally giving up her voice to get a guy? I know one family visiting San Francisco and their kid saw an ad for a strip club on Broadway; she pointed and said, “Ariel!”

What is wrong with this picture? Cinderella, Snow White, invisible girls or girls only in supporting roles in G movie after G movie (that’s MPAA Gs, not Reel Girl Girlpower Gs) but never let your kid see anything with drugs in it! Or a cigarette! Or a swear word!

A lot of adults don’t get it. Liberal men in particular. I’ve gotten in many arguments with pacifist, peace loving men who complain about the rating system, and say something like: violence is OK in movies, but sex is not? That’s not right. Why are people so uptight about sex?

But for women, the question “sex or violence” doesn’t even make sense. So often, in movies, the sex is linked with violence. Women are being raped, attacked, murdered, imprisoned while they are in their wet T shirts and bikinis.

“Whale Rider” may be too old for my kids.They’re still mostly into animated films. But I imagine I will show it to them as soon as they can follow it. I’ll see it and rate it for you but my guess is it’ll have multiple Gs: lots of Girlpower and suitable for kids.

6 thoughts on “Why the MPAA has no clue what is “appropriate” for kids

  1. Whale Rider is in our DVD collection and my kids have watched it since they were about 6 or 7. I had to really stop and think about the drug addict – I don’t remember there being a drug addict? Unless this is referring to the nice uncle who smokes the occasional joint…? 😉

  2. I think they check off a list of thematic elements but they don’t consider what they mean in context.

    I was just thinking about this this morning. Last night I was checking IFC’s upcoming listings and there were so many horror movies! (IMO, The Shining is not an indie film.) We have parental controls enabled on our DVR so some shows require you to enter a code, but I’m not clear on what triggers the code. I know I have seen plenty of violence without entering a code. Prime time crime shows don’t require a code and we’ve seen plenty of violence just during commercials for other programs too. A swear word or a flash of nudity seems to trigger the code every time, but a crime victim lying dead and bloody on the ground seems to be okay.

    I’m really hoping the kids don’t turn on The Shining by accident while I’m out of the room.

  3. Oh, I so totally agree. Girls are far too sexualized in our media, and it is NOT ok.

    There is a point, when comparing American film ratings to those of other countries, that much more violent content is considered “ok” for kids to see here than it is there. And I personally think it’s silly when a movie is rated R for *mere* nudity, as sometimes happens here for foreign films. I don’t think the human body is something my children shouldn’t see.

    On the other hand, I *do* think that they shouldn’t see hyper-sexualized portrayals of women or girls, and I also agree that violence and violent sexual content as you described often seem to go hand-in-hand in film. Healthy sexuality, that doesn’t seek to objectify or titillate, is a different matter, but it’s rare to see it in films…

    Thanks for the great reminder about “Whale Rider.” I’d forgotten about this film, and my daughter would love it.

  4. Good point. I think that MPAA ratings have no ability to contextualize. All they can do is count instances of an “event.” In this case, the event is drug use, and the system can’t differentiate between the drug use in Requiem for a Dream or the drug use in Whale Rider–all it can do is count how many times it shows up. And that, to me, makes it basically a useless tool.

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