Kelly McMahon, New MPAA Film Rating Director, Brings Fresh Look at 50-Year-Old System


Assn. by Kelly McMahon, the new director of movie reviews in the United States, can relate to parents who need to determine what is right for their children to watch. She has an 8 year old son who loves horror movies.

The 46-year-old longtime business lawyer says she’ll let her son watch a movie like “Jaws,” which got a surprisingly low PG rating in 1975. But she knows other parents wouldn’t allow their children to see the intense classic Shark movie.

“We’re in the minority, I know,” McMahon says with a smile from the MPAA offices at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, where the nonprofit shows films for its team of film reviewers. “I’m not going to turn on ‘Jaws’ when his friends are done.”

These types of appeals for judgment have recently taken on much greater significance for McMahon, who now has one of Hollywood’s thorniest and least understood jobs. On Monday, McMahon took over as the head of the MPAA’s rating committee, leading the small group of parents who anonymously give ratings, ranging from G to NC-17, to hundreds of films a year.

She replaces Joan Graves, 77, who recently retired after 18 years as head of the rating body.

The MPAA, led by former US Ambassador Charles Rivkin, is looking to McMahon to bring a new perspective to the 50-year-old rating system, which has at times caught the heat of moviegoers, filmmakers and political groups. Some critics have accused the MPAA of allowing too much violence in PG-13 movies, while being too sensitive to sexual content. Many also consider the language group criteria, in which more than one F word usually earns an R, as too rigid.

McMahon, in her first interview since taking the helm, championed the scoring system, which she said has remained a reliable and essential tool for families navigating the multiplex.

However, she says one of her first major goals is to reach out to parents, filmmakers and political groups – including LGBTQ and religious organizations – to hear their concerns. She also wants to add more people to the review board to ensure her decisions are representative of American consumers. The board currently employs only eight assessors; McMahon wants to increase the board to 12. She also wants to tackle the once common G (general public) rating, which has all but disappeared from the industry.

“I think I’ll ask more questions of our reviewers and the process,” she said. “As great as a system is, there is always room for improvement. “

The late MPAA president Jack Valenti, who led the organization for decades, started the rating administration in 1968 as an alternative to government censorship amid the decline of the dreaded Hays Code. The Classification and Rating Administration, as it’s officially known, has distributed about 30,000 ratings, according to a report released by the association last year.

Counting F-bombs and dissecting sex scenes in movies may seem odd in an age when questionable material is widely available online.

Yet ratings remain very influential. They are essential for studio business as they can influence a film’s commercial performance, experts said. An R rating can reduce the viewership of a film designed as a large-scale summer blockbuster. An NC-17 designation can destroy a film’s box office prospects by ensuring that no one 17 and under will be admitted to the cinema.

“This is a real matter of commercial importance,” said Alan Friedman, an entertainment industry lawyer at Fox Rothschild who has helped studios appeal ratings and previously served as legal counsel to Miramax. . “There are a lot of dollars in getting the grade you’re trying to get. “

McMahon, a UCLA law school alumnus who grew up attending the local drive-in in Long Island, New York, is a new addition to the rankings.

Her predecessor Graves first joined the MPAA as a part-time evaluator in 1988 before advancing to president in 2000. McMahon, on the other hand, previously served as MPAA legal counsel for almost 12 years. , spending much of his tenure reviewing contracts, employment and other business matters. Prior to that, she was a partner in a Century City law firm.

For a film enthusiast, whose favorite films are “Braveheart” and “The Princess Bride”, the position of Ranking Chairman was appealing to McMahon.

“It’s so unique and so interesting,” she said of her new role. “You grow with grades. … It was part of me growing up.

McMahon started attending screening sessions in January to get used to his new role.

“At first it was nerve-racking,” she said. “You don’t want to be the only PG when everyone else is PG-13.”

However, it is no stranger to controversies over ratings. For the past year and a half, she has overseen the odds call process, in which studios and filmmakers attempt to change the ratings. This experience gave him a better understanding of the process and the concerns of filmmakers and studios.

The first call she faced was about the 2018 release of Warner Bros. “15:17 to Paris”, which the MPAA had rated R for violence. Director Clint Eastwood, who wanted the rating changed to PG-13 to get the widest possible audience, delivered his speech at the MPAA in person.

“He was very persuasive,” McMahon said. “Jeanne is funny. As she walked in she said, “I always lose to Clint Eastwood.”

Sure enough, Eastwood won and got his PG-13.

After Eastwood’s presentation, McMahon walked the famous actor-director to his car and helped him retrieve a parking ticket he had dropped in his vehicle.

The changing of the guard at the MPAA comes amid a larger lobby group evolution amid a major industry upheaval, including the consolidation of studios and the rise of digital players competing with corporations. traditional cinematographic. One of its members, 20th Century Fox, was recently taken over by Walt Disney Co. The MPAA recently welcomed streaming giant Netflix Inc. to its membership, which includes Disney, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros., Sony Pictures and Paramount Pictures.

When it comes to assessments, a key challenge for McMahon and his team is keeping pace and figuring out what most parents will find suitable for children. Finding common ground can be tricky in an increasingly polarized nation where cultural values ​​are largely divided by geography and political preferences.

“The hardest part of this job is adapting to all of these changes and staying relevant,” said Ethan Noble, director of New York-based Motion Picture Consulting, which helps studios, including Netflix, navigate. in the rankings. “You have to keep Central America happy, and you have to keep the ribs happy. It’s a tightrope to walk for sure.

The system is sure to remain an occasional political flashpoint. Now disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein challenged the R rating of the transgender-themed drama “3 Generation” in 2017, arguing that the rating would prevent the film from reaching vulnerable young people. GLAAD accused the MPAA of bias against transgender stories. The MPAA downgraded the rating to PG-13 after the studio made cuts.

But the work has brought unexpected personal benefits to McMahon, who lives in Sherman Oaks. On the one hand, her son is now curious about what she does for a living and asks what movies she saw that day.

“It’s really cute,” she said. “It brought this relationship that we didn’t have before, where he’s genuinely interested in what I’m doing.”



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