Does the MPAA Think Gay Relationships Are Rated R?

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Aug. 21 2014 4:14 PM

Love Is Strange, but the Movie’s R Rating Is Stranger

1
Rated R.

Jeong Park / Sony Pictures Classics

Love Is Strange, a new film directed by Ira Sachs starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, will open tomorrow, and reception of the movie—which follows a longtime gay couple’s unexpected struggle with homelessness after they marry—has been highly positive. Slate’s Dana Stevens called the film a “delicate portrait of a long, loving relationship put to the test,” and the New York Times’ A.O. Scott praised Sachs for “beautifully captur[ing] the small pleasures and petty irritations [the two men] live through, and also their pride at having survived, together, for so long.”

J. Bryan Lowder J. Bryan Lowder

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

That critics have uniformly described Love Is Strange as “small,” “delicate,” or some other variation on mild or quiet might lead you to infer something about its tone—something that stands in stark contrast to the R rating the Motion Picture Association of America has given it. Indeed, the disparity between the film’s content and the rating—one normally reserved for movies that prominently feature violence, sex, or crude language—is so great that film critic Stephen Whitty spent the entirety of his review in the Star-Ledger berating the MPAA, whose role is to offer guidance to parents on whether a film is appropriate for their children. “What are they assuming we want to protect our children from?” Whitty asks, going on to note Love Is Strange’s R-rated company at the box office this weekend:

On Friday, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For will be released in a wide number of theaters. It features nudity, sexual situations, and substance abuse. Every woman in it is a stripper, a prostitute, or a murderer. There is violence and graphic gore, including one scene of a man having his eye plucked out and another of a man having his fingers broken with a pliers. It is rated R.
That day, Jersey Shore Massacre also reaches theaters. It features nudity, sexual situations, substance abuse, and ethnic and racial slurs. There is violence and graphic gore, including one scene of a woman being disemboweled, another of a naked woman getting her breasts sliced open, and one of a man having his hands fed into a wood chipper. It is rated R.
Advertisement

To steal a phrase from a colleague, Love Is Strange is, in comparison, as clean as a Mister Rogers episode. Yes, there are a few stray curse words, but nothing that warrants more than a PG-13. Truly R-worthy offences are otherwise absent: There is no nudity, no sex, no skull-bashing or violence of any kind—unless you consider the (unfortunately realistic) situation of gay couple being forced out of job and home for registering their relationship with the state to be a form of violence.

So, to echo Whitty’s question, what is the “adult material” in Love Is Strange that might require “parental accompaniment” for moviegoers under the age of 17? Well, Lithgow and Molina do snuggle a lot. And they kiss and hug and express four decades’ worth of affection for each other. Ah, and there is some subtle intimation that one of the men’s nephews may be gay, too. Clearly, these offenses are just as worthy of parental trepidation as the grotesquerie of watching a woman have her breast sliced open on screen—or at least that’s how the MPAA seems to see it.

Let’s hope parents are smarter than this. There is nothing “adult” or at all worrisome about a movie that quietly and gently portrays a gay couple and their struggles. To think otherwise is to participate in an insidious sort of homophobia that uses child-sized human shields to disguise basic prejudice. And the worst part is that Love Is Strange is exactly the kind of “gay film” that younger teenagers, both gay and straight, would benefit from seeing. For the former group it offers a vision of a gay romantic future that, while beset with a specific struggle, is also full of love, as well as a sense of community and history—older, happy gay people exist! And for the straight kids, the film can reinforce the dignity of gays and their relationships in a way that abstract lectures never could.

If the critical praise is any indication, this is a film that everyone should see. Shame on the MPAA for making that more difficult for the demographic that might benefit from it the most. 

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?