Strict Policy on Ratings Poses Big Challenge for Film Class

by Andrew Waterfield ‘20

Literature as Film, taught by English teacher Christiane Lock, consists of watching films of ranging quality and genre and analyzing the technical aspects of each one in order to understand how movies are put together. At the end of the semester, students are able to make their own film using the various techniques that they have learned from the movies they have watched and analyzed. However, Lock is unable to show any R-rated movies, a rule that may be detrimental to the class.

“So many of the most influential and important films have R ratings, and the class is missing out on great discussions and learning opportunities by not watching them,” said junior Jack Miller, who took Literature as Film last year.

MCPS policy dictates that a small number of pre-approved R-rated movies are available for classroom use, and teachers have the option to submit requests to the county in order to watch others. In theory, this system would prevent graphic content from being shown in classrooms, but the process for approving R-rated movies is “fairly long,” according to Lock, and “the approval has to be per individual film.”

Making matters more difficult, the policy does not differentiate movies on the basis of their content, only by their rating. Films are rated by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and their rating process is not clearly defined and has changed over time (PG-13 was not a rating until 1984). Over time, the MPAA has gradually allowed more graphic material to appear in PG-13 and PG movies, a trend that Lock has also noticed. “Many PG-13 movies are explicit and seem similar to R rated movies from years ago,” she said. This means that films released today with a PG-13 rating may be just as, if not more graphic, than some R-rated films from a few decades ago. Regardless, MCPS would permit the modern PG-13 movie based solely on its rating.

At the end of the first quarter, Literature as Film students have watched PG and PG-13 movies such as “Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Insidious.” The latter is a horror film and is a good example of a film–and a genre–that is difficult to rate according to age-appropriateness.

Obviously, teachers should not show overly explicit films to students, at least not without some sort of restrictions and limitations in place. However, a policy that does not allow a course such Literature as Film show any R-rated films seems overly restrictive and inflexible. Better options may include parent-permission slips in lieu of county request forms, watching edited versions of R-rated movies, or a clause in the policy that considers R-rated movies pre-1984 differently than those released after.