A pro-life film has been given an R-rating despite the absence of nudity, sex, violence, or curse words and filmmakers are convinced it's the message that led to the prohibitive rating.
Unplanned is a biographical film about the life of Abby Johnson, the former Texas Planned Parenthood manager who has gone on to become a pro-life activist. The film details her conversion and, while depicting the abortion process, it is short on any sort of graphic scenes. That is why filmmakers were surprised when the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) handed the film an R-rating. Producer Daryl C. Lefever said the rating, which restricts audience members below the age of 18 from attending without a guardian, would curtail the potential viewership of the film, and suspects the film's pro-life message played a part in the decision.
"We really thought we had made a PG-13 film," Lefever said in an email to the Washington Free Beacon. "There is no violence, no nudity, no sex, no profanity, and the only violence takes place in the womb, which most Hollywood folks don't think is a person."
An MPAA spokesman denied that politics played any role in the decision to give the film an R-rating. He emphasized that the rating is not meant as an endorsement of any political position, but is there to inform parents about age appropriate content for children. The rating encompasses more than what is depicted on-screen—such as drug use or sex or violence—and can instead reflect the thematic content of the picture, in this case abortion.
"The purpose of the ratings is to help inform and guide parents, not to prescribe social policy," the spokesman said in an email. "The rating board does not publicly discuss the process behind the rating for a specific film beyond the rating itself and the descriptors. This film received an R rating for ‘some disturbing/bloody images.'"
Charles Rivkin serves as president of MPAA. Rivkin has been a prolific fundraiser for Democrats and assumed the post after finishing up a stint as President Obama's ambassador to France and later assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs. The MPAA spokesman said that Rivkin does not play any role in the rating given to any individual film. The ratings board is made up of nine parents who have children between the ages of 5 and 21. While some pro-abortion movies, such as the Academy Award-winning Cider House Rules, have received PG-13-ratings in the past, others, including If These Walls Could Talk, have received R-ratings.
The discrepancy lies in the sensitivities of the parents on the board, rather than any political agenda from the MPAA, according to the spokesman.
"The rating system is constantly evolving. As American parents' sensitivities change, so too do the ratings," the group says on its website. "Elements such as violence, language, drug use, and sexuality are continually reevaluated through surveys and focus groups to mirror contemporary concern and to better assist parents in making the right viewing choices for their families."
The film's writers, Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, have said that the MPAA's recommendation spotlights the violence that takes place in the womb during an abortion. They took issue with the fact that in Hollywood, an underage girl can receive an abortion without parental notification, but would need an adult present in order to purchase a ticket to Unplanned.
"The MPAA seems to be indirectly endorsing the pro-life position: namely that abortion is an act of violence," they said in a statement to MovieGuide. "As a result of the MPAA's decision to give us a ‘Restricted' rating, many teenage women in this country who can legally obtain an actual abortion without parental permission will be prohibited from going to see our film containing simulated images of abortion, without obtaining parental permission."
Other pro-life activists have said the R-rating reflects cognitive dissonance for abortion supporters. Lila Rose, a pro-life activist who plays a reporter in the film, also took issue with age restrictions for seeing a pro-life movie that do not exist for obtaining an abortion.
In California, a 13-year-old can get an abortion at Planned Parenthood without her parent’s permission, but that same 13-year-old can’t go to a movie theater & watch Unplanned. https://t.co/ohStGAI8sJ
— Lila Rose (@LilaGraceRose) February 22, 2019
The MPAA does give filmmakers the opportunity to appeal any rating handed down by the board, but Unplanned‘s crew has yet to file a formal appeal. The movie is scheduled for release on March 29.