'The Tillman Story' loses an appeal to overturn its 'R' rating: Did the MPAA make a mistake?

After the MPAA handed an ‘R’ rating for language to an acclaimed documentary about NFL-player-turned-Army-Ranger Pat Tillman, the makers of the movie have lost an appeal to have the rating changed to PG-13. The filmmakers tried to argue that The Tillman Story – which delves into the official military cover-up of Tillman’s death in Afghanistan by friendly fire and the way in which he was exploited as a potent patriotic symbol — is exactly the kind of historically significant film that should be exposed to as many young people as possible, not hidden from them due to squeamishness over some bad words. The MPAA clearly didn’t sympathize with that argument, despite the fact that an Iraq War documentary, Gunner Palace, won a similar appeal to overturn its ‘R’ rating six years ago. The MPAA’s ruling follows another recent case in which a documentary about the Holocaust, A Film Unfinished, was hit with an ‘R’ rating for “disturbing images of Holocaust atrocities including graphic nudity.”

What do you think? Did the MPAA dishonor Tillman’s memory — and the freedoms he fought for — by worrying more about f-bombs than about getting his story out to the widest possible audience? Should the ratings board evaluate movies that handle historically important subjects by a different set of standards? Or would that only open an even bigger can of worms?


Comments (60 total) Add your comment
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  • john

    I think that ratings don’t stop people from seeing movies anymore. 5th graders go to R rated movies just as much as 25 year olds these days. And I don’t think the MPAA should give a shocking film a lower rating just so they can “get it out there more”. If people want to see it, they’ll see it.

    • Blue Silver

      People will always see the movie if they really want to…especially if it’s good and gets strong word of mouth. I’ve seen teenagers buying tickets to R-rated movies frequently without being ID’d. That serves as testimony to the real impact the MPAA really has!!!

    • tired of spin

      The Military screwed up in not owning up to the kind of tragedy that comes in war. People should be brought to justice.
      But I wonder if a man who gave up what he did, to serve would appreciate being used as a political device in the reverse either.

  • Bobby’s Robot

    The MPAA is, and has been, out-of-touch, hypocritcal, and devoid of understanding context and artistic vision for its entire existence, and needs to be abolished. Surely there has to be another way to indicate to audiences what would be appropriate for theire tastes without punishing serious films and filmmakers.

    • thin

      Well said, and I agree completely. Anyone who thinks otherwise should go see “This Film Is Not Yet Rated.”

      • Liz

        I have seen it and it was an interesting and vastly informing look into the rating system in the US

      • Kayde_Lyn

        I saw it too… a very shady business, especially a monopoly business

    • James

      You know what? If you want a PG-13 movie, remove the f-bombs. Plain and simple. They’re not needed for artistic effect. Besides, you can still get away with 2 in a PG-13 movie anyway (re: Ocean’s Eleven).

      • Killdozer

        James don’t like curse-words! And he still says “f-bomb”. I bet you’re a crotchety old fart aren’t you? And a closet case.

  • tiebaojin

    I read the book that this movie is based on and it is a truly amazing story of how the Bush Administration used Pat Tillman’s desire to do his perceived duty to his country as a political propaganda tool for a war nobody wanted to wage. It should be seen and known by every American no matter the language. Soldiers use that kind of language and it can’t be sugar-coated. Shame on the MPAA for letting a petty reason stand in the way of letting this film get the widest audience possible.

    • john

      Wasn’t he killed by friendly fire? Meaning he was killed by the very same people he was trying to protect.

      • Lara

        Friendly Fire – meaning that a fellow soldier killed him.

      • Sandy

        They are saying he was murdered by our own army.

  • Dysthymia83

    The MPAA is an irreparably flawed body.

  • anonymous

    Patt Tillman fougth in Afghanistan not Iraq. Should fix.

    • adam

      It says he fought in Afghanistan.

    • Kailey

      What a great rseorcue this text is.

  • silverrose

    if the MPAA ever steped foot in a public school for 5 mins., they would hear far worse thing comeing from the kids than a few f bombs.

    • Maureen

      Good point! ;)

    • James

      That’s because parents don’t care if their kids watch movies that they aren’t ready for yet. The MPAA does all it can, but it’s still up to parents to control the content their children see.

      • Bobby’s Robot

        Oh please, when I was growing up we never saw R-rated movies but we all knew the curse words on the playground.

      • Kelli

        I went to tons of links before this, what was I tihinkng?

  • therealeverton

    Far too much concern about sex, sexuality and language as compared to the lack of concern over violence.

    I do think that films like this should be released in 2 versions. One with the language edited and one full version. It’s a pain but there are things that aren’t appropiate for children, no matter the quality or worthyness. I may want my 8 year old to know about the details but I am responsible for making sure she doesn’t hear”extreme2 labguage, as far as I can prevent it. I’m a dad, that’s my job and it’s why I don’t swear in front of my kids, even though I swear way too much at all other times.

    Ratings system needs to be redone from the ground up though, especially when it comes to accepting that some things are simply not appropriate for 13 year olds, no matter who takes them to the cinema, but those things can be fine for adults without this stigma that somehow anything adults only is porn.

    • p.j.

      AMEN. A naked person or a swear word is NOT more obscene than people being shot, raped and killed, no matter what the MPAA says. But violence sells, so Hollywood has bought off the MPAA.

    • GHB

      Are you gonna pay to release two versions? Be realistic.

    • Alana

      I was pretty much treated like an adult when I was a kid, R movies and lots of swearing in music when I was in early elementary school. I’m an AP/Honors student, rarely cuss, not violent, etc. As long as you can instill morals in your kid, it doesn’t matter what they hear or see.

  • just me

    Pat Tillman is an American hero. Few people would have the courage to do what he did. Shame on the Bush administration for using his memory and covering up the true story of his death.

  • subject matter should not determine rating. just because it’s the story of someone in the military doesn’t mean it should get a pass on its rating. if it’s such a wonderful film with something to teach people, parents will be fine bringing their children to the movie.

  • sil

    if parents want their children to know this story then they can take them themselves. most young kids dont know this story so i dont think they are going to want to go on their own. plus it would be a better learning experience so the kids can ask questions and it would be better for their parents to answer

  • Sal

    The MPAA is making the right decision. I would rather they base their ratings purely on what is on the screen than that they be expected to make judgment calls about the overall worth of the film and whether that makes up for what is displayed on screen (or heard on the soundtrack). Those types of judgment calls are the type parents should not be making, not the MPAA.

    • Toni

      Get educated — the MPAA are a bunch of hypocrites. Something that shows people blowing other human beings’ heads off but only uses the f word once gets a PG-13. Somebody swearing with emotion about the real event of a human being getting killed gets an R. The MPAA doesn’t reflect the values of any parent with half a brain.

      • Brett

        Most parents don’t even have that half, which is why we need the MPAA. The tales of parents bringing toddlers to movies clearly too adult for the kids to be watching are legion.

      • thin

        What you are saying there argues much better for getting rid of the MPAA ratings board than it does for keeping them. If parents are going to ignore the ratings they hand out, what’s the point of giving them in the first place?

      • Kayde_Lyn

        The problem with MPAA is that their “employees” are people who are supposed to have the average family. In fact, the employees either have “no” kids, kids who are now adults, or are too old to have kids. This in fact is why their ratings are what they are, a bunch of hippocrites

  • stephenKC

    What do we think? Seriously? What do we think? How is anyone in your audience qualified to answer that question? Unless we’ve seen the movie, how could we possible answer that question? ENOUGH ALREADY with all the “what do you think” queries at the end of each and every little tiny news item. How about getting back to REPORTING the news instead of begging for interactive-ness by your readers.

    • Howard

      Thank you. And it wouldn’t hurt your magazine to drop the two pages of photos from upcoming movies, Ausiello’s gossip, and that idiot bullseye on the back page. Filler. Review stuff, like you used to.

    • Brett

      Good call, Stephen.

  • J.

    I agree this movie needs the exposures to get the story out, however, if it is R rated material, it needs the proper rating. That being said, I hope it they don’t cut out material to get a lesser rating. That would be worse.

  • reel_deal

    The MPAA is a mistake

  • Dinp Kadu

    I have a few choice words for the MPAA: Hypocrites. Cowards. Disgraces. But most importantly (and thankfully), Irrelevant.

    The Hays code is dead. Stop kowtowing to this group of imbeciles and just skip their judgment. The public will still watch what they want without the moral police dictating marketing and distribution.

    • Brett

      And a few choice words for Dimp Kadu: the MPAA is thinking about a nationwide release of a film, not simply catering to the liberal elitists in the big cities.

      • thin

        Your argument might be more convincing if they didn’t routinely hand out reduced ratings when they are appealed by big studios. In this case, they’re not thinking of “a nationwide release,” they’re thinking of a small, limited release. If there was big money behind it, this story, as so many before it, would be playing out differently.

      • Jaylene

        Ya learn somhtenig new everyday. It’s true I guess!

    • v

      Unfortunately, most movie theatres won’t play films unless they’ve been approved by the MPAA. Still, I agree that the MPAA should be done away with. It creates a dangerous stigma for any film above or below PG-13.

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