An R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America stands for “Restricted, Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.” A film receiving this rating “may include hard language, or tough violence, or nudity within sensual scenes, or drug abuse or other elements.” This rating system helps gives moviegoers an idea about a film’s content and its suitability for themselves and their families.
These ratings provide important data, and as a parent with two young children, I’m always cognizant of MPAA ratings when considering what I want to watch with my family. Many parents wouldn’t entertain the idea of letting teens or kids watch an R-rated film, which is why as a mother and the president and CEO of GLAAD, I am urging the MPAA to reconsider its decision to give upcoming film “3 Generations” a restrictive R rating.
The film, distributed by The Weinstein Company and starring Elle Fanning, Naomi Watts, and Susan Sarandon, is a story about family, understanding, and acceptance. In the film, Fanning plays a transgender boy named Ray who is at a critical moment in his life and needs the love and support of his family. It’s a touching story about what really makes a family, and one that will not only provide transgender boys like Ray a character they can finally relate to, but parents of transgender youth a look into a family that deals with issues similar to ones they face.
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“3 Generations” contains a few instances of strong language, but it does not contain “tough violence, nudity with sensual scenes, or drug abuse” — leaving the question “Why the R rating?”
Every year GLAAD tracks LGBTQ representations on screen in the Studio Responsibility Index, and the 2016 report showed an abysmally low number of transgender characters from major Hollywood studios.
In fact, there has never been a film from a mainstream distribution company about a transgender teen. Belgian drama “Ma Vie en Rose,” which received the Golden Globe Award in 1997 for best foreign-language film and a GLAAD Media Award as well, was about a 7-year-old transgender girl. It was given an R rating from the MPAA.
Further, there has never been a transgender character in a film rated G, PG, or PG-13, with the exception of films like “Hot Pursuit,” “Instructions Not Included,” and “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” all of which were rated PG-13 and received criticism for their defamatory depictions of transgender women.
Apparently, if a film includes transgender people who are only in the film to be treated badly, mocked, and disrespected, the MPAA considers it appropriate for teenagers.
The MPAA is hiding behind bad language to say “3 Generations” is not suitable for teens. The reality is, it’s the transgender content they are afraid of exposing teens to. There is nothing in this film more egregious than other PG-13 family dramas that depict non-LGBTQ teens or adults. Instead this film depicts a minority group who is oft misunderstood because transgender people are poorly represented in American cinema and culture. That is the exact reason why this film should be as widely accessible as possible.
The MPAA is far behind the curve if it thinks that simply because the film is about a transgender teenager it warrants a restricted R rating. The Williams Institute at UCLA estimates that there are 150,000 transgender youth between the ages of 13 and 17 in the United States. These are families who deserve to have their story told in a way that’s accessible to those most affected.
If the MPAA wants to remain relevant, they must get up to speed with TV Parental Guidelines, a program the MPAA was actually involved in the creation of. Shows like Freeform’s “The Fosters” and TeenNick’s “Degrassi” have depicted transgender young men like Ray and had ratings of TV-14 and TV-PG, respectively. CBS’ “Survivor” had a major moment of visibility for transgender men just last week and is rated TV-PG. GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program worked with all of these shows and we see first-hand the powerful impact they make, advancing the cultural dialogue about acceptance for transgender people.
Rating “3 Generations” as R is dangerous. It sends the message that something about being transgender is somehow not appropriate for children. It creates an unnecessary hurdle for transgender youth who want to see the film, and a character that they can finally connect with. The MPAA’s antiquated decision follows a tired narrative that LGBTQ topics are solely adult in nature — when nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s no secret that Hollywood has a diversity problem, whether it be in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity — there is a dearth of stories that represent everyone.
It is heartbreaking to think of a transgender teenager in America right now who would not be able to see a film where a transgender boy is accepted by his mother and grandmother because it was given a rating based on outdated prejudices against transgender people. Especially when a recent study by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center found that 30% of transgender youth report a history of at least one suicide attempt, and nearly 42% report a history of self-injury.
GLAAD has partnered with Blair Durkee, a young transgender woman from South Carolina, on a Change.org petition for the community and allies to speak out about the importance of trans images in the media and to ask the MPAA to reconsider its decision.
We need more representations of transgender youth in films that are accessible, not less. In seeking to “protect,” the MPAA is only causing more harm.