The Motion Picture Association of America have rejected the poster for Taxi To The Dark Side, a documentary that traces the use of torture in the United States’ recent military campaigns from from Afghanistan’s Bagram prison to Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay.
The poster depicts two soldiers walking away from the camera, escorting a hooded detainee. In a statement to Variety, an unnamed MPAA spokesperson-
We treat all films the same. Ads will be seen by all audiences, including children. If the advertising is not suitable for all audiences it will not be approved by the advertising administration.
It appears that the offending image, at least to the MPAA’s eyes, is the hood on the detainee. Last year, the MPAA rejected a poster for the documentary The Road To Guantanamo which featured a hooded prison hanging by his handcuffed wrists. At the time, Howard Cohen, co-president of Roadside Attractions, who released Road To Guantaamo, stated that the reason he was given for the refusal was that the burlap bag over the prisoner’s head depicted torture, which was not appropriate for children to see.
Taxi’s producer/writer/director Alex Gibney finds that reasoning spurious and unacceptable, considering that the poster’s image is based on a photograph taken by photojournalist Shaun Schwarz.
Not permitting us to use an image of a hooded man that comes from a documentary photograph is censorship, pure and simple. Intentional or not, the MPAA’s disapproval of the poster is a political act, undermining legitimate criticism of the Bush administration. I agree that the image is offensive; it’s also real.
Taxi To The Dark Side has already played to acclaim on the festival circuit and is currently on the short list for nomination for a Best Documentary Feature Academy Award. The film is scheduled to open on January 11, 2008.
In addition to running the rating system, the MPAA also has approval over all advertising materials, including posters, used. If ThinkFilm were to go ahead and use the poster anyway, it would run the risk of the MPAA revoking the film’s R rating. While ThinkFilm could still release the film unrated, it would face an uphill battle with distribution as many theater chains will not screen and many newspapers will not carry advertising for unrated films.
I’m no fan of the MPAA. I find the rational given for many of their decisions to be hopelessly simplistic and condescending. I find it hard to believe that the MPAA is expressing concern for children over this image. Where was this concern when they approved the phallic visual puns in the posters for Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo and Balls Of Fury?
Congratulations MPAA! Yet another stupid decision in your organization’s long line of stupid decisions.