"Smoking" label on PG-rated film...about Congress

They probably hope Congress will notice | The Motion Picture Association of America has added one of its rare “smoking” descriptors to a PG-rated Netflix documentary called Knock Down the House, about insurgent campaigns in the 2018 Congressional election.

Actually, the MPAA does more than note there's “smoking” in this movie — it's described as “brief smoking.” (Nothing to worry about there.)

Timing is everything | The MPAA announced its rating for Knock Down the House on April 17, 2019, in the MPAA's official rating bulletin.

That was just two days after Netflix and other entertainment companies received a strong letter from three US Senators, on April 15, asking the companies to report about smoking in their films and TV shows and how many kids watch it.

The letter also asked the companies to take positions on a menu of policy options to reduce kids’ exposure to on-screen smoking. (Rating descriptors are not on the menu.) The Senators want answers by May 6, 2019 — just a week away.

Politics is everything else | What's Netflix's connection to the MPAA? Netflix took over Fox's MPAA board seat when Disney took over Fox this year.

The MPAA has pasted “smoking labels” on some youth-rated films with smoking since 2007, against advice that the MPAA sought from the Harvard School Public Health, which warned such labels were “cynical."

However, in a practice that could lead parents and policymakers to underestimate the continued presence of smoking in more than 40 percent of kid-rated movies, the MPAA leaves the smoking labels off of nearly 90 percent of all top-grossing PG and PG-13 movies with smoking. 

Knock Down the House carries its "brief smoking" label into theaters this week — perhaps briefly (being Netflix). The movie follows four women's grassroots campaigns, including that of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, and captures "lightening in a bottle," according to the LA Times.

So much so that at least one New York political action committee has scheduled Knock Down the House as an organizer-slash-fundraiser.

Fake labels, fake smokers, enough already | The widely supported proposal to R-rate future movies with smoking exempts smoking by actual people who smoked, as in bio-dramas or documentaries like Knock Down the House.

As we recently reported, the bio-drama exception is widely abused by studios, which pack these films with smoking characters who never existed, generating billions more audience tobacco exposures.

Labeling the "brief smoking" in a political documentary—while under Capitol Hill scrutiny—may prove that MPAA member companies are sensitive to political exposure. But that's not news.

News would be Big Media doing something real. Like making kid-rated movies safe for kids.