Despite MPAA’s ‘R’ rating, ’12 Years a Slave’ to become a high school learning tool

If the National School Boards Association is to be believed, we're in a golden age of education Oscar movies.

Fox Searchlight announced today that a partnership with the NSBA, New Regency and Penguin Books will make copies of the 2014 Best Picture winner “12 Years a Slave” and Solomon Northup's autobiographical source material available to America”s public high schools. This follows Participant Media's own educational campaign for “Lincoln,” which put DVD copies of Steven Spielberg's historical film and the necessary projection technology in a number of underserved communities.

According to Fox's press release, the initiative was the brainchild of director Steve McQueen and Montel Williams, the latter feeling particularly strong about getting the film in front of young eyes. Educators who gain permission to teach the movie in class can receive the “12 Years a Slave” educator toolkit, which includes a DVD, book and study guide.

The push doesn't end there. A launch event will take place on Sept. 25 at Howard University in Washington, D.C., honoring the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. McQueen, Williams and NSBA representative David Pickler will participate in a town hall moderated by political analyst Michelle Bernard to discuss their plans to keep “12 Years a Slave” and Solomon Northrup”s original story in the educational consciousness.

In the press release, Williams says that, after witnessing the “brutal truths” and “evils of slavery” depicted in “12 Years a Slave,” he felt determined to make the film accessible for public schools. There's no challenging that: McQueen's vision of that haunting American chapter is unflinching. But according to the Motion Picture Association of America, that vision was inappropriate for the audiences this educational program hopes to reach. The MPAA slapped “12 Years” with an “R” rating for “violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality.” An eager, young movie-goer would have to recruit a parent to witness McQueen's drama firsthand. Which was fine, because high schoolers love going to the movies with their parents. Obviously.

When it comes to education and truth, the MPAA is rarely open to discussion. In 2010, Oscilloscope Laboratories's “A Film Unfinished” earned an R-rating over “disturbing images of Holocaust atrocities including graphic nudity,” despite appeals founded on educational grounds. While “12 Years a Slave” managed just fine with its 17-and-up rating, taking in over $56 million domestically, the idea that impressionable high schoolers were turned away from the movie is eyeroll-worthy. That having been said, it's worth noting that an edited DVD version of the film with disclaimer/parental consent can be requested for the aforementioned educational toolkit.

If you're an educator looking to show “12 Years a Slave,” you can request the toolkit, currently available to all public high schools for the 2014-15 school year, at the film's official website.