In 1922, the presidents of the major motion picture studios, including Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, Jesse Lasky and Joseph Schenck, formed the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association of America to resist mounting calls for government censorship of American films. In addition, the founders of the organization wanted to foster a more favorable public image for the motion picture industry and to safeguard the role of then-silent films’ place in mainstream America.
Former Postmaster General William Hays, a member of President Harding’s Cabinet, led the organization and instituted initiatives to forestall government interference in filmmaking. He oversaw the creation of a system of industry-led self-censorship, known as The Production Code or the Hays Code, a regime requiring the review of all film scripts to ensure the absence of “offensive” material.
In 1945, Hays was succeeded by former U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Eric Johnston. During Johnston’s tenure the name of the organization was changed to “The Motion Picture Association of America.” Johnston inherited the onerous censorship responsibilities associated with the Hays Code, but added to his mission the promotion of American films, which were gaining in popularity overseas in the post-World War II era. Following Johnston’s death in 1963, the MPAA’s top post remained unfilled for three years, while studio executives searched for a successor.
In the late 1960s our nation was changing, and so was its cinema. Alongside the progress of the civil rights, women’s rights and labor movements, a new kind of American film was emerging - frank and open. Amid our society’s expanding freedoms, the movie industry’s restrictive regime of self-censorship could not stand. In 1966, former Special Assistant to President Lyndon Johnson, Jack Valenti, was named MPAA President. That same year, sweeping revisions were made to the Hays Code to reflect changing social mores. In 1968, Jack Valenti, who went on to hold the position for 38 years, founded the voluntary film rating system giving creative and artistic freedoms to filmmakers while fulfilling its core purpose of informing parents about the content of films so they can determine what movies are appropriate for their kids. More than forty years later, the system continues to evolve with our society and endures as a shining symbol of American freedom of expression.
Following Jack Valenti’s retirement in 2004, former Kansas Congressman and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman was selected as MPAA Chairman and CEO. Glickman, who held the post until the Spring of 2010, led the association during a period of significant industry transformation. While the advent of the digital era created extraordinary new opportunities for delivering movies to consumers, it also give rise to the most serious threat to the industry’s continued health ― online copyright theft.
Today, under the leadership of Chairman and CEO Chris Dodd, the MPAA continues to champion the creative and artistic freedoms of filmmakers, while working to rally public and private institutions around the world to the cause of safeguarding intellectual property rights, advancing technology-driven innovation, and opening markets to the uniquely powerful and increasingly global medium of film.
Throughout its history and into the modern era, MPAA’s core mission has remained the same ― to advance the business and the art of filmmaking and its enjoyment around the world.