If kids and teens want to see Michael Moore’s ”Fahrenheit 9/11,” they’ll have to bring someone of voting age along with them. That was the ruling of the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings board, which upheld its earlier R rating of the documentary, despite a last-minute appeal by the distributors. The ruling came down Tuesday, one day before the film’s New York opening and three days before it opens nationwide.
Moore and his distributors had argued for a PG-13 rating, not just because it would allow more people to see the movie, but also on the grounds that 15- and 16-year-olds who might be sent off to war in the next couple years should be allowed to see Moore’s footage from Iraq. According to lawyer and former New York governor Mario Cuomo, whom the distributors hired last week to oversee the appeal, the ratings board gave the film an R because of ”several graphic images of victims of war and abusive behavior by some of our troops” as well as the use of the word ”motherf—–” four times by a soldier discussing lyrics of a popular song. (That’s what Cuomo had heard from board chair Joan Graves, he wrote in a letter to the distributors that was quoted by The Hollywood Reporter.) The board did not allow Cuomo to make his case in person, on the grounds that he was not involved in the production or distribution of the film, but it said Moore could have his PG-13 rating if he was willing to cut the offending scenes, which he wasn’t.
In a statement, Moore said: ”Older teenagers are being sent to Iraq, some never to return. To say that teenagers shouldn’t see this movie means that the truth should be kept from them. I encourage all teenagers to come see my movie, by any means necessary.” He added: ”If you need me to sneak you in, let me know.” Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films (one of ”Fahrenheit”’s distributors), was more circumspect, telling the Associated Press: ”I hope the R rating doesn’t have a large impact on the box office. I’ve spoken with many parents, including some on the appeals board, who absolutely said they are going to take their children to see the film. We’ll just have to hope the teenagers we’re encouraging to see this picture find their way in through parents or adult guardians.”
Jonathan Sehring, president of IFC films (another ”Fahrenheit” distributor), speculated to AP that the R rating could cost the film 10 to 20 percent of its potential box office. Still, the film is opening Friday on 868 screens, less than the 1,000 the distributors had hoped for two weeks ago but still a record for a documentary. ”The important thing,” Cuomo told Variety, ”is that the film is not going to be stopped and probably not even going to be slowed down.”