Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
Documentarian Kirby Dick Rates the Ratings System
From the 9/13/06 issue of Windy City Times
by Richard Knight, Jr.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated director Kirby Dick, interviewing gay icon John Waters, Dick's intrepid P.I., Becky Altringer
Documentarian Kirby Dick isn’t afraid of taking on powerful institutions. In Twist of Faith, he delved into the Catholic Church’s
sidestepping of responsibility for the rampant sexual abuse of altar boys by priests. Now with This Film Is Not Yet Rated he takes on
the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) – the enormously powerful movie industry lobbying group whose top secret ratings
board seems to unfairly target independent films for harsh treatment over studio releases. One prominent issue in the movie is the
repeated unfair ratings GLBT films have been slapped with when compared to their straight counterparts. A practice that particularly
incensed the filmmaker.
WCT: Did you have one of those lightning bolt moments that made you decide, “Okay, I’m going to take these guys on?”
KD: Well, no, actually it was more cumulative. I’ve actually wanted to make the film for more than a decade. It seemed to get
stronger with each unfair rating of an independent or foreign film or a film with gay content. At one point I just decided, “This is
going to make a good film.”
WCT: Can you talk a little bit about the imbalance that seems to exist in the ratings system between straight movies and GLBT
KD: I was so shocked. I mean we all knew it, right? I knew (director) Jamie Babbit – not well.
WCT: I just talked to her last week actually about this.
KD: Oh good. To get the project off the ground before we got a green light we interviewed Jamie and we interviewed Matt Stone
(South Park) because I thought that was a great range to present and Jamie was fantastic. She was just amazing but I remember
being so pissed off when she started telling me the details about how her film (But I’m A Cheerleader) was censored. I think it was
the only time I was like, “What the fuck!?”
WCT: Yeah and it’s so great, too, that you show the scene in question from the film because it’s so benign.
KD: Yeah – it’s so benign, it’s so benign! And you know that it’s not just because it’s gay content – although that’s a huge part of it
– but it’s also because she’s a new, powerless filmmaker and they just went in there and just stomped on her. In general I think
there’s almost a nearly – but not quite – a full rating more restrictive for films with gay content versus films with straight content and
I find that appalling. When Kori Bernard the spokesperson for the MPAA was asked about this discrepancy or this bias in the ratings
system her response was, “We don’t set the standards; we reflect them.” Now that’s a basic defense of homophobia and what if the
standards were racist or anti-Semitic – would they reflect those? I mean, what kind of answer is that? That is an outrageous
WCT: That’s pretty appalling.
KD: It’s completely appalling and obviously I don’t think parents should be telling their kids that they should only see films with
straight content and not gay content but absolutely if anybody’s going to make that decision for their kids it’s the parents that
should make that decision and not ten anonymous parents living in Los Angeles.
WCT: And as Jamie Babbit makes the point in the film, it would be nice to have a gay or lesbian parent as part of the mix.
KD: Exactly! Exactly! Because what is the average American parent? But I think the MPAA – which is a trade organization and
lobbying arm for the six major film studios that together control 95% of the film business – politically they gain from coming down
hard on films with gay content because the rating system is only a small part of what they do. Their major efforts are in Washington
– lobbying Congress to pass laws particularly very onerous intellectual property laws. Like the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright
Act) and the extension of copyrights. That’s where they’re really making a lot of money by getting Congress to grant them these
rights that in many ways are trampling on even the Constitution. So by coming down hard on gay films it plays well to the Right
which now controls Congress and that allows them to get these laws passed. It’s a very cynical use of the ratings system.
WCT: But those kinds of things have been in place against gay films since the rating system started. It’s always been much more
taboo in that area. “You can’t see Victim or Boys in the Band – oh my God!”
KD: You’re absolutely right.
WCT: So how do you change it? How do you break their autonomy?
KD: Well I don’t think you’re going to break the autonomy of the MPAA. But I’m hopeful that this film gets a lot of people upset
and informs a lot of people about what’s going on. Many people take the ratings for granted and really, this is a story of media
consolidation. It’s like any other industry in the pursuit of the bottom line. It’s doing things that hurt society and one of these
things obviously is this homophobic rating system.
WCT: Yeah, a big one.
KD: (laughs) A big one, yeah.
WCT: So to get Kimberly Pierce and Jamie Babbit and John Waters to appear on camera – did they hesitate or was it like they
couldn’t wait to start talking about this?
KD: Jamie dove right in to her credit. John Waters, you know, I think has very legitimate concerns and is afraid that his future films
might be more harshly rated. He says that in our film and he said it again to me a few weeks ago. He said, “I’ll talk to people
about the film but I’ve got to be careful what I say about the MPAA rating system because I’ve got another film going that’s got to
go before them and I’m worried.” You know, that kind of paranoia kind of robs an art form. A person should be able to criticize a
rating system and not think that that rating system is going to react by censoring their next film.