There are no scenes depicting graphic violence, nudity, or drug use in "3 Generations," a film starring Elle Fanning, Namoi Watts, and Susan Sarandon.

Yet, incredibly, it has an R rating. Why?

Actors Elle Fanning (left), Naomi Watts (middle), and Susan Sarandon (right). Photo by George Nicholis/The Weinstein Company.


LGBTQ rights advocates have an idea.

The film follows the story of Ray, a transgender teen — and his gender likely explains its restrictive rating, if you ask Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD.

Ellis penned an open letter to executives at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) — the organization responsible for rating films in the U.S. — slamming the group for what GLAAD considers an unreasonable assessment of who should be able to watch "3 Generations."

An R rating means, without adult supervision, no one under 17 years old will be allowed to see the film in theaters.

"The Motion Picture Association of America should represent all Americans, including transgender youth," Ellis wrote. "Your decision to give 3 Generations a restrictive 'R' rating sends a dangerous message to this already marginalized community."

Although the film has been under fire for not casting a trans actor to portray Ray — trans actors are too often overlooked for complex, consequential roles, and casting cisgender actors to play trans parts can actually be harmful — most LGBTQ advocates say "3 Generations" still brings much needed representation to the big screen.

"A parent’s unconditional love for their child is not a story that should be restricted," Ellis continued. "In fact, it is a story that could help parents and young people across this country and around the world."

"3 Generations" receiving an R rating is disappointing. But — considering the MPAA's past blunders — it's not all that surprising.

The MPAA has been criticized before for discriminating against LGBTQ-themed films by deeming their content as less appropriate for children and teens — just because of characters' sexual orientation or gender identity.

Many called foul, for instance, when 2014's "Love Is Strange," starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as the loving lead couple, was given an R rating. The sole contributing factor? Scenes with two men kissing, some argued.

This discrimination has also bled into more modern entertainment mediums like YouTube. The social media giant drew fire in March for unfairly categorizing much of its LGBTQ content as "restricted" — even though the videos lacked anything that should be considered inappropriate for children.

YouTube since apologized for the "confusion" and said it's looking into the issue after many vocal influencers in its LGBTQ community spoke up.

Similarly, the executives and stars behind "3 Generations" are hoping their own outspokenness will spark some change as well.

Elle Fanning in "3 Generations." Photo by George Nicholis/The Weinstein Company.

Harvey Weinstein, whose Weinstein Company is behind "3 Generations," publicly slammed the film's R rating earlier this month, claiming it needlessly bars many people who should see the film from being able to: “The fact that an R rating would prevent high school students from seeing this film would truly be a travesty,” he said, Variety reported.

The film's leading ladies have also made public statements decrying the MPAA's decision. Watts claimed the film "doesn't have a bad bone in its body," while Sarandon noted "3 Generations" is an "important movie for everyone to see" and that its R rating is "ridiculous."

At a pivotal moment for transgender rights in the U.S., more young people need to be seeing films like "3 Generations" — not told its content is for adults only. The rest of the country is evolving on LGBTQ rights, and it's crucial the film industry helps lead the way.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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