Smoking in movies. The MPAA is cracking down on it like Congress is cracking down on steroids in baseball.
The movement to get cigarettes out of the fingers of our favorite movie stars has been going on for quite some time now, but James Cameron definitely threw some kerosene on the fire last December when Sigourney Weaver’s Grace lit up liberally throughout “Avatar.” When I saw it, quite frankly, I laughed. I saw it as James Cameron’s big “*&$% you, MPAA, I’m an artist and I’ll do what I want!” Here’s what he actually said about it though:
“I wanted Grace to be a character who is initially off-putting and even unpleasant. She’s rude, she swears, she drinks, she smokes. She is not meant to be an aspirational role model to teenagers — in fact our young protagonist, Jake, through whom we experience this story, finds her to be obnoxious at first. Also, from a character perspective, we were showing that Grace doesn’t care about her human body, only her avatar body, which again is a negative comment about people in our real world living too much in their avatars, meaning online and in videogames. In addition, speaking as an artist, I don’t believe in the dogmatic idea that no one in a movie should smoke. Movies should reflect reality. If it’s O.K. for people to lie, cheat, steal and kill in PG-13 movies, why impose an inconsistent morality when it comes to smoking?
I do agree that young role-model characters should not smoke in movies, especially in a way which suggests that it makes them cooler or more accepted by their peers. In the same way that I would never show lying, cheating, stealing or killing as cool, or aspirational, I would never portray smoking that way. We need to embrace a more complex set of criteria than simply the knee-jerk reaction “smoking is bad, therefore cannot be shown.” It should be a matter of character, context, and the nature of the portrayal. I think the people who are earnestly trying to do some good in this area would be more supported by the artistic community if they were less black and white in their thinking. Smoking is a filthy habit which I don’t support, and neither, I believe, does ‘Avatar.’”
I agree with Cameron totally. If smoking in movies sends a message, either blatant or subliminal, that cigarettes are cool, then that’s worth cracking the whip on. But the purposes of historical accuracy or showing the true nature of tobacco, then I think it’s totally fine. And also, as Cameron said, would you rather have a teen who picks up smoking from a movie or picks up murdering? I think that choice is pretty clear.
It’s silly, in my opinion, for the MPAA to add worthless descriptors like “brief smoking” to the ratings of movies. Are there really parents that concerned about their kids’ response to seeing cigarettes in movies that they need to know before seeing it? There’s no replacement for good parenting and informing children of the danger of tobacco; you can’t let the MPAA do that job for you.
As long as the cigarette police don’t interfere with the art of film, I’m fine with the crusade. For those of you who believe in the fight against smoking in movies, here’s some good news for you.
…smoking in high-grossing films fell to 1,935 “incidents” last year, down 49 percent from a recent peak of 3,967 in 2005. The study defined an incident as the use or implied use of a tobacco product by an actor, with a new incident occurring each time a tobacco product went off-screen then came back, or a different actor was shown with tobacco.