Reconsidering a rating

Should ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ have been rated PG-13?


Courtesy of Lionsgate

“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” has a number of classic coming-of-age moments, including an uncomfortable lesson about the menstrual cycle.

Through a combination of adult wit and child-like whimsy, Judy Blume’s body of work has been beloved and revered by all ages spanning multiple generations. With her first young adult (YA) book in 1970, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” Blume entered the YA genre with a best seller that quickly proved to be controversial. With its plot centering around menstruation and religious views, “Margaret” was placed on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 most frequently challenged books at number 60. 

Over 50 years later, “Margaret” has now been adapted into a coming-of-age film, written for the screen and directed by “Edge of Seventeen” writer and director Kelly Fremon Craig. After moving from New York City to a suburb in New Jersey, titular character Margaret befriends her neighbor Nancy and her friends, who are all zeroed in on the concept of going through puberty and growing up. Margaret and her friends are all presumably 11 at the start of the movie. However, at their age, they would not have been able to go see “Margaret” in the theaters, as “Margaret” is rated PG-13. 

What qualifies a movie to be rated PG-13? The general explanation that qualifies a movie to be PG-13 includes mention of “stronger language, extended violence, or sexual situations and drug-use.” In “Margaret,” the strongest swear word used is “hell.” The rating descriptor for “Margaret” provided by the Motion Picture Association (MPA) was that the film contained “thematic material involving sexual education and some suggestive material.” 

The sexual education the MPA may be referring to is a scene where a teacher does a presentation on the female reproductive system, focusing on periods. This is a presentation most every girl has seen and experienced long before the age of 13. No matter how awkward or uncomfortable, understanding the menstrual cycle is a part of the curriculum for health education. In the West Linn-Wilsonville School District (WLWV), the presentation is given in fifth grade, when students are typically 10 or 11 years old.  

One of the more fascinating parts about “Margaret” is how excited Margaret and her friends are about getting their periods. Margaret even goes and buys sanitary napkins (now better known as pads) with her friends preemptively before getting her first period. With periods often having a sense of shame surrounding them, “Margaret” looks to defy that, and move past the stigma. 

As a film, “Margaret” is an ode to girlhood, and is relatable beyond the sense of just being a girl who experiences her first period. Margaret deals with the angst of moving cities, family matters, and understanding religion. Margaret’s parents came from two different religious backgrounds, so her family is secular in order to avoid conflict. For children who may be confused by the concept of families that do or don’t practice a religion, “Margaret” makes that lesson easy to digest for the average child. 

For a movie to be rated PG, the content must be generally acceptable for most audiences, however there may be some more mature themes that require parental guidance (hence PG) and the MPA states that parents may consider some material unsuitable for their children, and parents should make that decision.” 

According to Cleveland Clinic, some people who menstruate can get their first period as early as nine years old. Can a period be considered such a mature theme to the point of warranting a PG-13 rating? If something else in “Margaret” warranted the PG-13 rating, for example the aforementioned use of “hell,” that potentially could have been omitted to allow for a PG rating, as this film could be beneficial for individuals as young as nine.   

Perhaps the fate of the rating of “Margaret” was already decided by the book’s already established reputation. However, movies have the ability to create empathy and understanding for situations most kids may not understand. A rating of PG-13 will cause parents to hesitate from letting their preteen age children see a movie. When a movie like “Margaret” proves to have something to offer educationally, perhaps a PG rating should be considered appropriate.