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The MPAA Bitchslaps CAPTIVITY And After Dark Films... So What’s Next?!

Y’know, I say this as a guy who is actually on the DVD commentary track on Kirby Dick’s THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED. I say this as a person who has railed time and time again on this very site about decisions the CARA (the ratings administration of the MPAA) have made. I say this as a working horror filmmaker, and someone who believes it is important that adults be allowed to see controversial material of their choice. I say this as somebody who actually cackled with glee when informed that my latest DVD release was banned from Wal-Mart based on the title and the cover art. Consider me shocked, but I totally agree with the MPAA in the actions they’ve taken against After Dark Films, and if I have any complaint, it’s that they didn’t go far enough. I'm not alone in this, either. Joss Whedon's taking heat for voicing his outrage, and there's a great community of filmmakers and parents who have created this site, which I urge you to check out. Oh, I can already hear you hitting the keys of your keyboards to call me names and yell at me, but hold on for a minute, okay? The MPAA has always maintained that their main purpose is to help parents sort out the content of films so they can gauge whether something is suitable for children. And I’ve always said that they took that excuse and set themselves up as moral watchdogs for adult content, “protecting” us from imagery that they deemed too strong even for a mature ticket buyer, using the NC-17 or the X as a punishment rather than as a valid option for artists looking to examine difficult themes or ideas. But when it comes to this particular case, I think the MPAA did exactly the right thing, and I think they are completely working to help parents, which is what they are supposed to do.

When I first saw this billboard as I was driving through LA, I was shocked. There’s no excuse for an image like this being posted in an area where anyone can see it. None. Zero. This is unacceptable. If someone wants to go see a movie about this, and they buy their ticket, and they go into the theater voluntarily, then by all means... I hope the film is insane and crazy and full of lots and lots of hilarious fake snuff so they can get their jollies. Sincerely. If that’s your idea of entertainment, then more power to you. As an adult, you should have the option of watching that if you want to. But a billboard on a public street? My kid was in the car with me when I drove past one of those billboards. Thankfully, he’s still too little to really give a shit about advertising or even to process it or pay attention to it. But say he’d been a little older... how am I supposed to explain to him what those four panels add up to? More importantly... why should I have to? What right does After Dark Films or Courtney Solomon have to put that imagery in front of my child? Or any child? Or me, for that matter? And it’s one thing to get the impulse. I understand... they’re a little company. They made a presumably shitty HOSTEL knock-off. They’re trying to cash in quickly, and they know they need to make their money opening weekend, so they put together an ad that will make people talk. I get that. But when they submitted that ad to the MPAA, they were told absolutely not. The ad was rejected. And that should have been the end of it. Instead, After Dark chose to put the ad up anyway. They knew full well that there would be controversy, and that there might even be some sort of slap on the wrist. But they did it because they wanted people to talk about it, and they got exactly what they set out to get. Now the MPAA needs to respond in kind. I encourage the MPAA to refuse to give the film a rating of any kind. After all... it’s obvious After Dark doesn’t want to listen to the rules or pay attention to the standards that every other MPAA signatory company has to follow. And so they should be allowed to release their film unrated. Go ahead. As hundreds of filmmakers before can attest, that’s not an easy process, and as far as advertising goes, good luck. You’re pretty much fucked as far as most newspapers go. Is that censorship? No. Because After Dark will be able to put whatever they want in their movie. Is it a crippling economic sanction? Oh, hell, yes. And in this case, it makes sense. It’s the only thing that is fair to all the other filmmakers who have had to deal with rejected ad campaigns. There was a great SLEEPY HOLLOW campaign I remember that was rejected because the image of the Headless Horseman was considered too strong. Harry and I wrote an angry article at the time, and I stand behind what we wrote then. There’s a huge difference here. Paramount didn’t use those ads. You can argue about the artistic merit of the CAPTIVITY billboards all day long. I think they’re repulsive and stupid, but still... that’s a separate discussion. The point is that they were rejected and they were still used. And even after they were told to take them down, After Dark intentionally dragged their feet, and when they finally did remove them, they just put up these smarmy “CAPTIVITY Was Here” messages in the space, as if to flip the bird on the way out the door. As all of this began, I was in the middle of working up an article on the After Dark DVDs that just came out this week, the “8 Films To Die For” series. I really admire the idea of giving these tiny indie horror films a chance at even a limited theatrical run, using one brand name to hopefully draw people to them and give them a chance. To me, that’s smart distribution. That’s something to be admired and respected. But when the same company turns around and pulls a stupid, arrogant, ugly stunt like this, I find it hard to root for them. So again... I’ll close by saying this is an important case for the MPAA and the CARA. If you really want to punish the right person for once instead of killing a movie’s box-office prospects because you don’t like gay sex or forcing edits on a movie because it made you confront an idea you didn’t like, then step up. Punish After Dark Films. Refuse to give them a rating on this film. Force them and Lionsgate to deal with the consequences for their actions. Prove that it really is about what you say it’s about. I’m asking you as an artist, as a horror filmmaker, and as a parent. You’ve made the first move, and it’s a strong one. Now finish the job, or the next jackass who needs to stir up controversy to sell a piece of crap will go even further. This isn’t a game. This is what your organization supposedly exists for. Now let the talkback flame wars begin.

Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles

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