No one is going to pretend that the US ratings board, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), is a bastion of fairness. It recently slapped an R rating (which prohibits a film being seen by anyone under 17 unless accompanied by an adult) on the gentle drama Love Is Strange. The choice was made ostensibly because of strong language, of which there are infrequent examples, though the fact that the movie portrays at its centre a stable, loving, long-term relationship between men (played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina) seems an altogether likelier catalyst for the severity of the rating. (To put it into context, it is the same rating given to torture porn like the Saw and Hostel films.)
This week, the MPAA also gave an R to the British comedy-drama Pride, which details the solidarity in the 1980s between gay rights activists and striking miners. (Stockard Channing in Six Degrees of Separation: “Whenever I hear about striking miners, I picture these really… striking… miners.”) This again prompted accusations of homophobia. Peter Tatchell said: “It is outrageous, knee-jerk homophobia. There’s no significant sex or violence in Pride to justify strong ratings. The American classification board seems to automatically view any film with even the mildest gay content as unfit for people under 17.” Other commentators have weighed in, including Josefeen Foxter, a programmer at Fringe! Queer Art and Film Festival in London, who said: “Any gay film is going to have a rating that’s much more restrictive – while they wave through all sorts of incredible violence.”
I’m afraid they’re wrong in relation to Pride. Regardless of past misdemeanours and misjudgements by the MPAA, it will be clear to anyone who has seen this movie that no other rating is realistically available to a film which features strong language, a scene that takes place in a bondage club and another in which porn magazines and a fluorescent pink dildo are brandished (not that I’m suggesting the aesthetic nature of the object has any bearing on the rating: I’m simply providing, um, colour). There is no way a film with any of these elements could have received a PG-13 (which admits anyone but advises parental guidance for those under 13). It had to be an R. There is no homophobia for the MPAA to answer for.
In fact, the R is a less restrictive rating than the one that Pride received here. The UK 15 rating prohibits anyone under that age from seeing the film, whereas the US R at least allows entry to those under 17 if an adult is with them. Should there be some liberal-minded American adults keen to educate their offspring in recent British political history, they can do so freely by taking them to see Pride. That option isn’t available to their British counterparts. It would make more sense to address that disparity, and the unfairness of the BBFC giving Pride a 15 when a 12 might have been more appropriate, than to go crying wolf in the media. There is enough homophobia in the world without manufacturing any more.