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Why Is This Transgender Teen Drama Reportedly Rated R?

The MPAA has a long history of penalizing films for sexual references, language, and drug use — while being lax with those containing explicit violence.
(Photo: The Weinstein Company)

(Photo: The Weinstein Company)

Independent film distributor The Weinstein Company is gearing up to challenge the Motion Picture Association of America for giving its upcoming transgender teenage drama 3 Generations an R rating. On Thursday, TheHollywood Reporterreported that TWC was told that the film had received the 17-and-over rating for its language and sexual references and had hired attorney David Boies to fight it (the MPAA does not comment on films it is currently rating). Boies previously represented TWC when it appealed the MPAA’s rating for its bullying documentary Bully in 2012.

“Gaby, Naomi, Susan and Elle made this movie to share its message of acceptance and inclusion with all generations. The fact that an R rating would prevent high school students from seeing this film would truly be a travesty,” TWC’s co-chairman, Harvey Weinstein, told THR of the film. While an R-rating does not bar under-17s from seeing the film, it would require them to be accompanied by someone over 17 to be admitted.

The MPAA has long assigned harsher ratings to films with coarse language, drug content, and sexual content than those with explicit violence. While gun violence has tripled in PG-13 movies between 1985 and 2012, and surpassed that in R-rated movies in 2012, no other similar “ratings creep” has occurred for language, nudity, and sexuality content in the category since the ’80s (tobacco and alcohol use has not risen in any category since the mid-’90s). As a result, dramas like The King’s Speech — with four F-bombs — and Boyhood — which had some sexual references and drug use — have been rated R, while those with execution-style murders, like Suicide Squad and The Dark Knight, were rated PG-13.

All the same, collaborators on 3 Generations argue that it’s important for transgender youth who may not yet be “out” to their friends and family to see the film independent of a chaperone. 3 Generations depicts 16-year-old Ray (played by Elle Fanning), formerly Ramona, as he embarks on testosterone treatments for the first time. Though his mother (Naomi Watts) and grandmother (Susan Sarandon) are generally supportive of his decision, his family life becomes more complicated when he learns he must get both parents to sign his consent form — compelling Ray’s mother to track down his absent father (Tate Donovan), who is more hesitant about Ray’s decision.

“There are kids all over this country that are still too fearful to speak out and to step out; they’re too alone to fight, lacking the kinds of support that would let them feel free to be themselves,” director Della told THR. “Our story wants to humanize this family experience, and to take the mystery out of the secrets.” Indeed, stories like 3 Generation’s come along rarely: Only one of 2016’s top 100-grossing films featured a speaking transgender character, according to research by the University of Southern California’s Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative.

TWC has successfully appealed harsh MPAA ratings before — in 2013, it convinced the MPAA to lower the family drama Philomena’s R rating to a PG-13, and, in 2010, the association downgradedthe company’s relationship drama Blue Valentine from an NC-17 to an R. But, in 2012, the MPAA refused the distribution company’s appeal to lower the R rating for Bully — which TWC hoped to show at middle schools and high schools. As a result, the distribution company threatened to leave the MPAA’s classification system all together (but eventually ended up releasing the film as “unrated”).

Whether the MPAA’s appeals board will be kinder to 3 Generations on a re-screening remains but to be seen, but, in the meantime, early critics seem to think it’s appropriate for youngsters: Variety’s Andrew Barker called it a “crowdpleaser” that offers a mainstream depiction of a teen’s gender transition.