How can our family set up guidelines on movies?
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“How can our family set up guidelines on movies?” Ensign, Dec. 1975, 42–43

How can our family set up guidelines to ensure that the movies we see will not be destructive to our spirituality?

Ralph D. Barney, associate professor of communications, Brigham Young University

The important thing to remember about the situation in the motion picture industry today is that television has gobbled up much of the money that the public used to spend on general, or family, movie entertainment. In order to attract audiences to movie theaters, then, movie makers find they must offer something that cannot be found in the home on television. Therefore, they have largely dedicated themselves to the treatment of mature subjects that attract primarily young adult audiences. The vast majority of moviegoers today are between the ages of seventeen and thirty.

Another limiting factor is the generally low quality of the “family” movies that are made. Because family-type movies seldom attract enough paying customers to cover high production costs, movies for general audiences are quite often low quality and disappointing because they are poorly photographed, have uneven or ineffective story lines, employ poor actors, or are in other ways amateurish. This generally poor level of the G-rated movies, brought about by the economics of movie production and exhibition, makes it necessary for parents to be most careful about evaluating, for their worth, even the G movies they take their families to see.

Most people are aware that the movie rating system in the United States is based primarily on the content of offensive language, sexual activity, and violence, and has little or no relationship to other values transmitted by the depictions. Consequently, parents should use caution in assuming too much about the meanings of the ratings for individual movies.

For example, one major producer of family-type films made and distributed an entire generation of films that have subsequently been rated G; yet these movies consistently contained story lines in which children successfully disobeyed not-too-bright parents and defied bumbling police to track down and capture gangs of thieves. It is not unreasonable to think that a prolonged diet of such portrayals promoting disobedience could have a substantial effect on impressionable children who watch with parental approval. It may not even be too farfetched to suggest that such movies could have contributed to the widespread derision of parental authority by young people in the 1960s.

With these problems in mind, I would suggest that parents not rely completely on the rating system of the Motion Picture Association of America in the selection of appropriate movies for the family. Such reliance would delegate the parents’ decision-making for their family to a force outside the home.

This is not to say that the rating system is of no value. Generally speaking, the rating given to a movie can be viewed as a general guide to the type of entertainment value it may have for the family. (A G movie is judged wholesome enough for anyone, while an X film is closed to young people because of the sexual activity, violence, or offensive language it contains. PG and R are intermediate gradations that suggest parental guidance and accompaniment, respectively.) President Hartman Rector, Jr., of the First Council of the Seventy, for example, used the rating system as a guideline when he, counseled the youth of the Church in 1972 to “not attend R- or X-rated movies.” (Ensign, Jan. 1973, p. 131.) However, such advice should probably not be construed as an endorsement of G- and PG-rated movies. Rather, parents should set up their own rating system. Such a system—one that is tailor-made for the needs of the individual family—may be more difficult to devise, but it is a proper exercise of the responsibilities placed on parents by the Church to supervise the spiritual and temporal instruction of their children.

One important contributor to that personal rating system could be a trustworthy reviewer who comments on films regularly. But since no nonmember reviewer is likely to react to a movie the same way that a Latter-day Saint parent will, you may try and discard several before an appropriate one is found.

To supplement the “good” reviewer’s opinions, or to give a quick assessment of movies the favored reviewer or reviewers (it would be preferable to have several reviewers you rely on) may not have commented upon lately, each issue of Parents’ Magazine contains a comprehensive list of movies, with a brief description and evaluation and an indicator of the sexual activity, violence, or vulgar language content of each one.

The combination of reliable reviewers and listing services offered by such magazines as Parents’ Magazine should provide fairly reliable prescreening information, particularly when you are faced with deciding whether your teenage children should be permitted or encouraged to attend a certain movie you have not seen.

These suggestions may not be best for everyone, but some adaptation of them may work for you. The main point to keep in mind is that parents have the responsibility for selecting movies for themselves and for their children, and that responsibility should not be turned over to movie raters in Hollywood, to hometown theater owners, or even to “reliable” reviewers. The more carefully decisions are based on the values of the family and the Church, and the more reliable the prescreening sources are, the more likely it is that both children and parents will see movies that are uplifting and instructive as well as entertaining.