After a series of Hollywood scandals in 1922 that caused much public uproar and calls for censorship, the major film companies joined together to form the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). This new organization had a single major goal in mind: improve the public reputation of the film industry in order to avoid government censorship.
In 1927, the MPPDA, headed by its first President, Will Hays, compiled a list of “Don’ts and Be Carefuls.” Although this list was meant to help film studios avoid elements that censor boards often objected to, it was not always adhered to and never enforced. By the early 1930s, outside pressures on the industry — now backed by the results of the Payne Fund Studies that looked at the effects of filmgoing on children — forced the MPPDA to take more proactive measures toward self-regulation.
Fearing government censorship, in 1930, the MPPDA agreed to adopt and abide by an outline of moral standards that was known as the Motion Picture Production Code (often called the “Hays Code“). This time, the MPPDA enforced a set of rules to ensure that studios abided by the code. Any member studio that released a film that did not receive the MPPDA seal of approval was fined $25 000 and were barred from theater owned by MPPDA members (this included the vast majority of theaters at the time).
It wasn’t until 1968, when Jack Valenti, the President of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA – the new name adopted by the MPPDA in 1945) acknowledged that the Hays code was outdated, that formal changes started taking place at the level of self-censorship. On November 1, 1968, the Production Code was replaced with the voluntary ratings system that is still in effect today (albeit in a slightly modified form). Film ratings (from G to NC-17), in other words, are not restrictions imposed by a censoring government but an example of film industry self-regulation that has been in development for almost 100 years.
Publishers Cheer Hays At Meeting (New York Times, April 27, 1922)
Film Men To Meet To Plan Ethics Code(New York Times, October 9, 1927)
Edison Lauds Hays On New Film Ethics (New York Times, April 2, 1930)
Attacks Film Code Of Hays As A Failure (Chicago Daily Tribune, April 20, 1932)
Hays Ethics Code Evaded By Trickery (Los Angeles Times, March 5, 1933)
Movie Trade Gets Code Ultimatum(New York Times, August 9, 1933)
Hollywood Heeds The Thunder (New York Times, July 22, 1934)
Censoring Code Discussion Brings Up The Point Again (Los Angeles Times, June 26, 1955).