The MPAA has been criticized by Christian groups for its decision to give anti-abortion film Unplanned an R-rating. It came to light last month that the film, which is based on a memoir of the same name by former Planned Parenthood clinic director turned anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson, was awarded the R-rating ahead of its March 29 release date.
The news didn’t go down too well with Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon, the directors of Unplanned, who called the MPAA’s standards “deeply flawed” and refused to edit their film in a bid to get it awarded a lower rating. The filmmakers received support from their distributors Pure Flix, although it put the Christian film studio in the awkward position of having an R-rated film on its roster. Meanwhile, the MPAA stated the rating was based on scenes in Unplanned it classed as including “some disturbing/bloody images” and that its decision was by no means politically motivated. The organization also pointed out that neither the filmmakers nor Pure Flix had officially challenged the rating by its appeals process.
Now according to THR, the MPAA has come under fire yet again for its decision in the form of an open letter signed by several Christian leaders and celebrities not involved with the production of the film. The letter, which criticizes the rating as biased and calls for Christian viewers to go see it regardless, was signed by two people who have won Academy Awards - Gray Frederickson, co-producer of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II, and Schindler’s List co-producer Gerald Molen.
The open letter states that Unplanned deserves a far less restrictive rating and draws comparisons with Mel Gibson’s controversial Christian movie The Passion of the Christ, which the MPAA also rated R. It also calls abortion “the great evil of our time” and suggests the rating is motivated by what they see as the pro-choice leanings of “a group of unelected parents from Beverly Hills” - an apparent dig at the parents that make up the MPAA’s ratings board. The MPAA once again defended its position as fair and stated its board “reflects the diversity of American parents."
According to the MPAA, the scene its board found most objectionable was one showing a screen that depicted a fetus being aborted. In its defense, this wouldn’t be the first time the organization has objected to scenes featuring abortion. It previously awarded the pro-choice leaning 1996 film If These Walls Could Talk an R-rating for its "realistic depiction of abortion," so it doesn’t seem like the rating given to Unplanned was necessarily motivated by a bias against the anti-abortion movement.
However, the makers of Unplanned and its supporters do make a fair point that the things usually associated with an R-rating like profanity, violence, and gore don’t make an appearance in the film. Just to give an idea, Halloween and Fifty Shades Freed are some other recent movies that’ve received an R-rating from the MPAA which seem like they might be more deserving of it. On the other hand, while the directors and Pure Flix have been relatively level-headed about the decision, the open letter signees calling abortion “the great evil of our time” is a bit of a biased statement to be using when you’re leveraging accusations of bias yourself. Regardless of who is in the right, a film about an issue as contentious as abortion was always going to be a very controversial movie. No doubt Unplanned will generate further controversy after its release in late March.