Gender politics have never been so much a part of the global conversation as they are right now, and that has not gone unnoticed by the entertainment industry — for better or worse. TV and film has always had a complicated history with the LGBT community, and it is especially true for representations of transgendered narratives. For example: it's 2017, and The Assignment is an actual real movie that someone in Hollywood thought was a great idea.
When The Weinstein Company released the trailer for #3Generations earlier this month (after it was pulled three days before release back in 2015 with the title About Ray) many rejoiced at seeing a (hopefully) responsible and positive trans representation within Elle Fanning's central character. However, it seems as though the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had some concerns, and has given the movie restrictive R-rating.
Shot prior to her role in The Neon Demon, #ElleFanning stars as Ray, a New York teen wishing to transition from female to male. Ray is underage, which means that he needs his parent's support and consent before he can undergo his transition physically. #NaomiWatts plays Ray's mom, who is trying to adhere to her new son's wishes. #SusanSarandon plays the third generation — Ray's grandmother — who lives with her girlfriend, Frances, played by Linda Emond.
The trailer makes the movie out to be a light-hearted yet touching look at a close-knit family with a transitioning son; a movie touching on themes of family, understanding and acceptance — so why, then, has it been given a restrictive rating?
What Does An R-Rating Mean?
An R-rating is reserved for movies featuring “hard language, or tough violence, or nudity within sensual scenes, or drug abuse or other elements.” An R-rating means that those under 17 years of age can only see the movie if accompanied by a parent or guardian. According to Variety, 3 Generations features few instances of strong language, but does not contain violence, nudity, drugs or sex.
The MPAA has denied any bias towards the movie's subject matter, stating that 3 Generations was given its R-rating based on five instances of profane language — enough to get any movie an R-rating under MPAA guidelines. In spite of this, Harvey Weinstein, head of TWC, feels that the movie has been unfairly targeted, telling Deadline:
“I disagree with the MPAA. I find that at the big studios they get clearances on films that are violent. I have children and I see them watching scary and horrifically violent PG-rated films and I’m supposed to trust the rating?”
Back in 2012, The Weinstein Company fought and won the appeal to change the rating of Bully (rated R by the MPAA) to a PG-13 — which they received, after they cut a few f-bombs from the final cut. Weinstein believes the MPAA has a double standard when it comes to violence, and argues that movies should be viewed through a social and cultural lens, taking into account the positive messages movies can provide. He issued a direct challenge to the MPAA, stating:
“Take 400 parents and teenagers above the age of 13 and let them watch our movie, and let them decide (what it should be rated). I will abide by that decision.”
GLAAD Has Its Say
#GLAAD — an LGBT media monitoring organization — believes the decision to give the movie an R-rating is more insidious than just bad language, and believe it is due to the film's subject matter. In an open letter to the MPAA, president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis cited that an R-rating sends a "dangerous for transgender community," writing:
The upcoming film 3 Generations, distributed by The Weinstein Co. and starring Elle Fanning, Naomi Watts, and Susan Sarandon, will help undo some of the damage Hollywood has caused. Elle Fanning plays Ray, a teenage boy who is also transgender. The powerful family drama allows audiences to get to know Ray’s mother and grandmother as they advocate for their trans child and grandchild.
It’s a touching story about what really makes a family, and one that will not only provide transgender boys like Ray a character they can finally relate to, but parents of transgender youth a look into a family that deals with issues similar to ones they face. All that differentiates the film from other PG-13 films is five instances of strong language. The film does not include graphic violence, drug use, or nudity – it merely portrays a modern family.
Ellis argues that the movie should be as widely accessible as possible, as it features positive and realistic depictions of trans youth. Furthermore, GLAAD's Studio Responsibility Index reported "an abysmally low number" of transgender characters in major Hollywood movies in 2016.
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Why Should It Matter?
Ellis also points out in an article for Variety that there has "never been a transgender character in a film rated G, PG, or PG-13, with the exception of films like Hot Pursuit, Instructions Not Included, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," all of which received criticism for their defamatory depictions of transgender women.
Movies like The Danish Girl and Dallas Buyers Club have received awards and accolades for their depictions of transgendered individuals, but fail to understand that trans actors should be cast in trans roles, and by not doing so is an act of silence, shutting trans folks out of their own narratives — the same can be argued about Elle Fanning's character in 3 Generations.
With such limited and poor representation of transgendered individuals in mainstream media, it's important that movies which deal with the subject responsibly have the opportunity reach as many people as possible. While the MPAA seem to be looking to restrict minor's exposure to profane language, we are living in a climate where trans folks are still being persecuted for using the bathrooms they feel most comfortable using. When these ideas are asserted in derogatory representations seen by millions, it only exacerbates those damaging notions.
Movie Pilot reached out to the MPAA for comment on Ellis' open letter, and received the following statement:
“The goal of the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA), the voluntary film rating system administered by the MPAA, is to provide parents with credible and consistent information about the level of content in movies to help them determine what is appropriate for their children. None of the ratings indicate whether a film is good, bad, or otherwise, nor is it CARA’s purpose to prescribe social policy. This system has withstood the test of time because, as American parents’ sensitivities change, so too does the rating system. Elements such as violence, language, drug use, and sexuality are continually re-evaluated through surveys and focus groups to mirror contemporary concern and to better assist parents in making the right family viewing choices.
TLDR; The Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) and the MPAA rate their movies based on current social climates — through surveys and focus groups — but state they do not "prescribe social policy." Having said this, it might be argued that the safety and protection of trans youth is more of a "contemporary concern" in this day and age. The Weinstein Company have yet to file an official appeal with the MPAA to change the rating, but there is a Change.org petition to prompt proceedings.
3 Generations is also not the first movie about trans youth to deal with harsh ratings. Ma Vie En Rose — a touching story about a 7-year-old transgendered girl — also received an R-rating when it was released in the US back in 1997. 2011's Tomboy — which features a 10-year-old named Laure who presents as a boy named Mikhael — hasn't received a rating at all. Neither films were made by American companies.
With movies like Moonlight and Carol making strides in including positivity and diversity in narratives about the LGB community, trans representation is still falling by the wayside. The question is whether or not it is the MPAA's responsibility to view movies through a social lens, rating them based on their content, and the good they can do, rather than ticking boxes of bad language, violence, drugs, etc. While TV is doing a somewhat better job, Hollywood can't quite step up its game, both in terms of representing trans narratives positively, and its casting of trans actors — there is still a long way to go.