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What is the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)?

Tricia Christensen
Updated: May 23, 2024

MPAA is an acronym for Motion Picture Association of America, which was originally titled the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association of America. It is an organization to which many of the major movie producing studios belong, including Buena Vista, Sony, Paramount, Fox, Warner Brothers, and Universal. The principle work of the organization is to control distribution of movies, work to combat illegal copying of films, and to administer film ratings.

The MPAA was founded in 1922, and the first president of the nonprofit trade association was former Postmaster General, Will H. Hays. Under his leadership, Hays created the Production Code, a group of standards that had to be met for a film to be considered appropriate material for a general audience. Some films prior to the advent of the code were downright racy, and inspired the wrath of many organizations across the country, including numerous religious groups. The code was abandoned in 1967 and replaced with the MPAA rating system, which has undergone numerous changes since it was first adopted.

The longest serving president of the trade association was Jack Valenti, who held the position from 1966-2004. Valenti is credited with most of the association’s changes that have occurred over time. He developed the rating system, and later revamped it to its current incarnation. He also saw the potential profit loss that might occur to film studios if files were shared on the Internet, and very successfully lobbied for the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes illegal various forms of copyright infringement via digital means.

There have been numerous criticisms of the MPAA leveled at virtually every aspect under which the association operates. Significant criticism is leveled at the current movie ratings system, which has been proven to increasingly allow more violence into films rated at the PG-13 level. Others suggest that any rating is a form of censorship and should be banned, though this is not a popular line of argument, particularly among parents.

Since most of the major studios belong to the MPAA, it has been argued that the organization is a monopoly, and accusations have been leveled against it that it deliberately attempts to control or thwart distribution of films made by independent studios, and may rate them more harshly than they would films of member studios. Though the association can be vehement in protecting copyright laws that infringe upon the products of its member studios, it has sometimes violated these laws to promote itself.

In particular, in 2007, several charges of copyright violation by the MPAA have angered those already disposed to criticize the organization. Since the association has sought to enforce anti-piracy laws with such force, critics feel they must act with the same standard of behavior they impose upon others. With charges of monopoly and playing loose with copyright laws (at least in a few incidents), there are some that feel the organization should be disbanded and that it inhibits freedom of independent studios and directors, and the free sharing of information.

There is a flipside. Virtually every well-known American producer is affiliated with the MPAA, and most high profile directors work for studios with this affiliation. The association can make distribution much easier for member studios, and even if the rating system is flawed, many argue this is better than no rating system. Current ratings offer some guidelines on what you might expect to be see in a movie of a certain rating. The MPAA also benefits producers and movie companies through its continued battle to end copyright infringement, thus maximizing profits.

WiseTour is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseTour contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By RocketLanch8 — On Dec 09, 2014

I don't know why the MPAA even bothers with G or PG ratings anymore. I can't remember the last movie with a genuine G rating in the past twenty years. Apparently the studios don't think those family-friendly titles will sell enough tickets. I was a teen when the MPAA came out with the PG-13 rating, and I watched a few of the first movies to get that rating. I think "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was one of them. I don't know how the MPAA decided that the violence and adult situations would be too much for a 12 year old to handle.

The PG-13 movies today would have been rated R back when I was a kid. The only difference between a PG-13 and an R rated movie today is the use of one particular profanity, and maybe the level of nudity. Some R rated movies probably deserve an X rating by the MPAA, but X rated movies don't make much money at the box office. Directors just have to edit out a few things and suddenly a dirty movie becomes acceptable.

By Reminiscence — On Dec 08, 2014

I'm old enough to remember what movies were like when the Hays code was still in effect. It seems like there were about a million rules about the depiction of violence or sex or adult language. Married couples had to sleep in separate beds, bad guys always had to lose and no one could say anything stronger than an occasional, and I mean occasional, "damn". Sometimes a serious movie like "On The Waterfront" would come across as a little silly because they couldn't act or talk like real people.

I was glad when the MPAA rating system was finally put in place, but I remember a lot of kids were disappointed because they weren't allowed to see movies with anything higher than a G rating. Of course, studios like Disney did produce a lot more family-friendly movies back then. I remember seeing my first rated R movie in the late 1960s and being shocked at the brief nudity and occasional curse word.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseTour contributor, Tricia...
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