50 years ago today, the Motion Picture Association of America announced a new voluntary Hollywood rating system for giving advance warnings to parents so they can make decisions about which films might be appropriate for their children. The four MPAA ratings included ‘G’ for general audiences of all ages, ‘M’ for mature audiences, ‘R’ for restricted under the age of 16, unless accompanied by an adult, and ‘X’, which the National Association of Theater Owners lobbied for in order to protect itself against lawsuits. (1968)

The ‘X’ rating, which banned viewers under 16 from seeing such films as Midnight Cowboy and A Clockwork Orange “because of treatment of sex, violence, crime, or profanity”, was later changed to “NC-17” (No Children Under 17), due to the stigma of X being associated mostly with pornography. In 1984, the US industry’s self-regulation evolved with two new ratings replacing ‘M’. Filmmakers could choose either PG: (Parental Guidance Suggested, if some material may not be suitable for children); or PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned, if some material may be inappropriate for children under 13). They also redefined the ‘R’ rating as applying to viewers under 17—and in 1996 the age was further raised to “17 and under”.

Some major cinema chains like AMC and Regal refuse to show NC-17 rated movies, which limits the ability of millions of adults to see important films. Many artists, critics, and fans have come to loathe the entire system, which interferes with storytelling (particularly when the MPAA will not reveal anything about how or why decisions are made, or define for the filmmaker the specific scenes that need to be cut in order to get an alternative rating), but most parents find the ratings more useful than nothing at all.

More Good News from this Date:

  • The Stamp Act Congress convened in New York to draw up colonial grievances against England (1765)
  • The U.S. and British governments announced the establishment of the United Nations, the intergovernmental organization that won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for sending peace-keeping troops into conflict areas like East Timor (1942)
  • American poet Allen Ginsberg performed his poem Howl for the first time at the Six Gallery in San Francisco (1955)
  • New York’s Metropolitan Opera hired its first black performer, contralto singer Marian Anderson (1954)
  • President John F. Kennedy signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty with Britain and the Soviet Union, prohibiting all test detonations of nuclear weapons except underground (1963)
  • Cats the musical opened on Broadway, beginning its record run of 7,485 performances (1982)

Happy 87th Birthday to Desmond Tutu, the archbishop of Cape Town who received the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in South Africa to end apartheid, including his leadership of the vital Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

2013 photo by Libris Förlag, CC license

As a member of The Elders, he still campaigns for human rights and against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. He recently co-authored a book with the Dalai Lama called, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. (1931)

And, on this day in 1955, the brilliant cellist Yo-Yo Ma was born in France. The Chinese-American musician was a child prodigy, performing from the age of five, when his mother, a singer, and father, a violinist, moved to New York City.yo-yo-ma-songs-from-the-arc-of-life-cover-grab

His 90+ albums have received 18 Grammy Awards and his kindness follows him around the world on tour after tour. His fascination with other cultures and the ways their music can be blended together resulted in the nonprofit Silk Road Project. Ongoing since 1998, it is described as an “arts and educational organization that connects musicians, composers, artists, and audiences around the world.” Watch a clip below, and see Yo-Yo talk about Silk Road.