After Newtown, movie ratings offer more specific guidelines

April 18, 2013 at 11:35 AM ET

Sure, that movie your kids are longing to see may be PG-13, but is it due to intense sci-fi action, or crude humor and sensuality? In the wake of the Newtown, Conn. school shootings in December, the Motion Picture Association of America is making some changes to its movie ratings system.

The familiar G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 ratings haven't changed, but now the MPAA is enlarging the phrases next to those rating letters that clarify why a film earned its rating.

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TODAY anchor Willie Geist spoke with Entertainment Weekly senior writer Jessica Shaw about the changes.

"After Newtown, the president asked a lot of people, 'What can you do to do your part so this doesn't happen again?'" Shaw said. For the MPAA, that callout led to the enhanced ratings information.

To be clear, the letter ratings as we know them remain. "We all kind of identify the MPAA with the letters," Shaw said.

And the information being highlighted now isn't new -- she noted that in 1990, the MPAA added text noting whether the film earned its rating due to violence, sexual situations or other reasons.

But that text was hard to see in the small type used previously.

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"So what they're doing now is they're making it a little bit bigger, so you don't just know, 'Oh, this is a PG-13 movie,' but you'd know specifically why it's PG-13 and what is in it that you might find offensive as a parent," Shaw told Geist.

The information is individually tailored to each film. "Which is important because there are very different things that fall under, especially the PG-13 umbrella," Shaw said.

The MPAA has dubbed the new campaign "Check the Box," and the information will appear in ads and other places where the letter rating has appeared in the past.