With the large number of movies, television shows, internet websites, and other media today, it can be hard for Christians to discern what is appropriate entertainment. For example, a few months ago a friend of mine who grew up in India heard about the popular movie Slumdog Millionaire, which is set in India, and planned to go see it. The movie had been recommended to her by several of her friends. However, another friend of hers warned her that the movie was rated “R” and that Christians shouldn’t watch R-rated movies. My friend was perplexed by this advice.
To aid in this type of discernment, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has for many years operated an Office for Film and Broadcasting that serves “to provide the public with a Catholic evaluation of both entertainment features and documentaries from a moral and artistic perspective.” On the Office’s website one can find a list of reviews and evaluations of current movies, as well as an archive of older reviews and evaluations. The Office’s reviews consider a film’s merits from both an artistic and moral point of view. For each film, the Office also applies its own rating system, which evaluates movies according to their moral suitability. There are five classifications: A-I (General Patronage), A-II (Adults and Adolescents), A-III (Adults), L (Limited Adult Audience, Films Whose Problematic Content Many Adults Would Find Troubling), and O (Morally Offensive).
So, for example, what did the Office have to say about Slumdog Millionaire? It classified the movie as A-III, and thus inappropriate for children and adolescents, due to some scenes of violence and other adult themes. But in its review, the Office highly recommended the movie to adults. The reviewer found the film to be “harrowing at times…[but] ultimately hopeful, stressing the dignity of the underprivileged and the primacy of spiritual over material values . . . an exhilarating celebration of humane values.” As for my friend, she ultimately decided to go see the movie and, like the reviewer for the USCCB, found it entertaining and even edifying.