One of Hollywood’s biggest faith-based film studios has found itself in an unlikely battle with the movie industry’s higher power: The ratings board.
Pure Flix, the Christian-aimed studio behind PG-rated box office hits like God’s Not Dead 2 and The Case for Christ, was recently informed that next month’s anti-abortion drama Unplanned would receive an R rating, the first in the studio’s history. That could make it a tough sell for the company’s traditional family-friendly audience.
According to a report in The Hollywood Reporter, the controversial Unplanned received the rating due to a series of graphic abortion scenes. The R was handed down by the Motion Picture Association of America, the decades-old trade association that’s responsible for providing guidance for theater owners and parents. Most American theaters won’t exhibit films unless they have an official MPAA rating of G, PG, PG-13, or R (an R stipulates that theater owners not allow anyone under 17, unless they’re accompanied by a parent or guardian).
The ratings board includes less than a dozen voting members, all of them parents, who discuss the film after screening it. Filmmakers can contest their rating, but the appeals process can slow a film’s release, and doesn’t always result in a new rating.
The MPAA has made several controversial ratings in the last few years. It assigned R ratings to such teen-life dramas as Boyhood and last year’s award-winning Eighth Grade, largely because of language and mature conversations. Yet shoot-’em-up action films, like 2014’s The Expendables 3, occasionally receive PG-13 ratings.
The organization, which is known for its secrecy, was the subject of a 2006 documentary, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, that tracks some of its more hotly contested decisions. The long-time head of the ratings board, Joan Graves, retired last year after nearly three decades, and was replaced by the organization’s VP and corporate counsel, Kelly McMahon.
According to the Reporter, the MPAA contends the R rating for Unplanned wasn’t political, and was instead assigned because of “some disturbing/bloody images.” Pure Flix, which doesn’t plan on appealing the decision, was clearly frustrated by the rating, as they were expecting a more on-brand PG-13. “A 15-year old girl can get an abortion without her parent’s permission but she can’t see this movie without adult supervision?,” company executive Ken Rather told the Reporter. “That’s sad.”
Unplanned is slated to open March 29. It likely won’t be the first contentious abortion film the MPAA will be dealing with this year: The already-infamous Roe v. Wade, which stars such conservative actors as Jon Voight and Stacy Dash, will open later this year.