SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. — Joan Graves, 77, has seen sufficient intercourse on display for 5 lifetimes. New and ingenious methods to kill folks? Don’t get her began. She has spent many years accessing off-color humor, deciding what constitutes glamorized smoking and counting situations of the F-word.
Only as soon as, she stated, has a horror film been so violent that one in every of her staff misplaced consciousness. Paramedics arrived and hauled the staffer away on a stretcher.
Graves is Hollywood’s rankings czarina. For 30 years, she has watched motion pictures — at the very least 12,500, she figures — and assigned grades of G to NC-17 so mother and father could make selections about what is suitable viewing for kids. For 18 of these years Graves has served because the rankings system’s chairwoman, sparring with boundary-pushing filmmakers who name her too prudish, and, on the similar time, defending her course of to activists and oldsters who deem her grades too permissive.
But her reign is ending. The Motion Picture Association of America stated on Nov. 15 that Graves would retire within the coming months, to be succeeded by Kelly McMahon, 45, an M.P.A.A. lawyer with a 7-year-old son. “I decided it was time, if only because it doesn’t look good to have a granny in charge,” Graves stated in her no-nonsense means. “I can tell you honestly, though, I still love movies. That has never gone away.”
Graves, who studied political science at Stanford University and began out as a stockbroker, was recruited by the Motion Picture Association in 1988, when her youngest daughter was 9. The group was trying for somebody “sensible,” she stated.
Charles H. Rivkin, the Motion Picture Association’s chairman and chief executive, called her an “institution” whose contributions to film ratings are “immeasurable.” For directors and studios, her decisions have carried enormous business implications: The difference between ratings — PG-13 versus R, or even G versus PG — can mean millions of dollars in ticket sales.
But not everyone in Hollywood is a fan, including the Oscar-nominated documentarian Kirby Dick, who made an entire movie in 2006, “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” about the ratings system. In an email on Thursday, Dick blamed Graves for, among other things, allowing “films with excessive violence to be rated PG-13, resulting in tens of millions of children being exposed to traumatizing violent imagery.”
Consider this her exit interview. Over scrambled eggs at a cafe near her office in suburban Los Angeles, Graves spoke of her most challenging moments on the job, the rating she now believes she got wrong, and images she can’t unsee. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
You’ve never lost your love of movies? I have a hard time believing that. Not even while sitting through “The Hottie and the Nottie”?
During the really horrible movies, I often find myself wondering, “Who gave them money to make this?” There have been times when I have felt worn down — when directors try to outdo each other with sadistic stuff. Did we really need that 15-minute rape scene? But then not long after will come a film that is intriguing and well written and restores your love.
At this point, could a filmmaker kill a character in a way that would surprise you?
I shouldn’t say no, because then they’d try.
Why do ratings seem harder on nudity than on violence?
We don’t set standards, we reflect them. What are parents most concerned about? Overall, there is something about graphic nudity in this country. We are all graphically nude a couple times of day, so I don’t quite get it.
What has been your most challenging moment as head of the ratings system?
Harvey Weinstein was a great frustration. The last run-in I had with him was on a movie about a transgender character. He floated out to the news media that we gave it an R because of the transgender story line. That was not at all the case. It was an R for ubiquitous language — the F-word throughout.
Harvey routinely preyed on our policy of treating each film like an attorney would a client: We give the rating and the descriptor and do not publicly discuss our internal deliberations. He would use that to his advantage to create controversy and get attention for his product.
As a result of Harvey’s blanketing the airwaves with “the ratings board is totally out of touch,” we did an in-depth survey through Nielsen. Just how do parents feel about foul language? Guess what: They wanted us to be even stricter!
(Mr. Weinstein did not respond to a request for comment. The rating for “3 Generations,” the film with the transgender character, was reduced to PG-13 after edits were made.)
Have you ever made a mistake? Nielsen recently conducted a survey about your system and 84 percent of parents said they found ratings to be accurate, which is pretty impressive.
“Cars 2.” We rated it G and from all the feedback we realized PG would have been more suitable.
Speaking of the G rating, it has evaporated. Last year, there were 11 movies with that rating. In 1969, there were 101. Why?
Studios want the rating they think will be most commercial. It’s almost as if they throw in a “hell” or a “damn” just to get a PG.
What other trends in content have you noticed?
One year, not too far back, practically every picture seemed to have someone urinating on the side of the road. Right now, having a conversation while sitting on the toilet is big. One year, everyone was throwing up. I think it’s young filmmakers thinking: “Oh, that’s cool. I’ll do that too.”
Is there any movie that you can’t unsee?
When I first started, we still had the X rating. There were still a good number of theaters playing double X and triple X films. So we had to watch those — and the rules state that we have to watch the whole movie, so we do. I still have some images in my head from that period that I’d love to get rid of.
What has been the best part of your job?
Exposure to the creative types. Directors. Some have been bullies and nasty. Most have been extremely articulate, educated and knowledgeable — far more thoughtful about what they want to project on the screen than I would have ever thought.
I once described the ratings system as confusing in an article. You were not happy.
“Byzantine” was your word. That’s a pet peeve, as long as I’m being candid. Our process is laid out right there on our website.
The board is made up of a rotating group of parents and they watch movies and each person assigns a rating immediately after and … then what?
A senior rater announces the tally and leads a discussion. Was the vote a slam dunk or was it wishy-washy? They discuss the content and form the ratings descriptor on the spot.
Submitters are then informed of the rating. Many times they will say: “We agree with your assessment of the ratings, but we don’t want to market it that way. We want to edit it to get another rating.” At that point, the senior rater can tell them — not as an industry professional, but as a parent — what led to the rating. Was it the shot to the head with the blood on the wall? Then they can edit and submit it again if they want.
By my count, you have outlasted at least 27 studio chiefs.
When I first became a rater, I thought, “Well, I’ll do this for three months, and then I’ll have to get a real job.”
What was the first movie you rated and what was the last?
On my first day I rated three, and one starred Ben Kingsley and was set on a Greek island. That’s all I remember. The last one was yesterday, and, to tell you the truth, I can’t remember its name, either. I can wipe my brain clean afterward, which is actually helpful — one analysis doesn’t bleed into another.