I saw a wonderful documentary last night called "This Film Is Not Yet Rated". It's an overview of the MPAA, the organization that rates movies. TFINYR gives a generally solid overview of this organization, particularly giving really good examples of its arcane and draconian policies in regards to rating certain movies with certain areas of content. Also, the identities of the people who rate the movies are kept anomymous, so the filmmakers aren't given a right to confront the people who are judging and rating their work. We see that most of the raters don't have children under the age of 18, which the MPAA claims to consist of, parents whose children are under 18. The MPAA is depicted, accurately, as a star chamber. The studios said that it had to be formed to impede government censorship and oversight of movies. As a couple of people point out, direct government oversight would at least provide some degree of accountability and transparency, which the MPAA does not have.
Through a process that is too complex and wordy to repeat here (just see the film), there is an unholy alliance between the studios, the MPAA, and the theater owners. The director is pretty much forced at gunpoint to alter his or her creative vision and recut their movie if the MPAA gives it an NC-17 rating. An NC-17 rating is pretty much death for a film, especially if it's being backed by a studio (never mind the studio's pressure on the filmmaker). Often, the MPAA doesn't provide feedback to the filmmaker on which scene(s) specifically need to be cut or revised in order to avoid the harsh rating, and the appeals process is pretty much a lost cause. The filmmaker isn't even allowed to use past rulings by the MPAA on other films, in which to make a possible case. On top of that, in some cases, the overall content of a film could result in an NC-17 rating ("A Dirty Shame" by John Waters and "Orgazmo" by the "South Park" guys Parker and Stone are examples). Sure, there's nothing stopping the filmmaker or studio from releasing it "unrated" but papers and other media don't run advertising for unrated films, and the film flounders into oblivion.
The only part of the film I could have done without was the detective subplot, in which Kirby Dick (the filmmaker who directed this documentary) hires a team of female detectives to track down some of the raters and reveal their identities. While they were able to do so, and it was entertaining enough, I think the meat of the film stood fine on its own. With that being said, I give the film a