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‘Blue Valentine’ demonstrates the problems with how the MPAA is implemented

By Scott Mendelson

HollywoodNews.com: So, first off, the good news. After about a month of appeals, the Weinstein Company drama “Blue Valentine” has won its appeal and received an R rating. As most of you probably know, the Ryan Gosling/Michelle Williams marital drama had original received an NC-17 primarily for a scene involving oral sex between the emotionally damaged married couple. Much of the discussion over the last month has centered on the usual canards: that the MPAA treats mainstream fare lighter than big studio fare, that sex is treated harsher than violence, and that sex presented in a serious context is treated harsher than sex treated as comedic or overtly prurient in nature. All of these clichés seem to apply in this particular case. But the problem is not the rating system. The problem is how said system is implemented.

When the NC-17 was created in 1990, it was intended to be a rating to avoid situations just like the one faced by “Blue Valentine.” It was a substitution for the ‘X’ rating, which had been exploited by pornographic filmmakers to such an extent that ‘X’ was shorthand for out-and-out pornography. NC-17 was intended to be a new start, a rating that indeed classified a film as ‘for adults only, no exceptions’, while differentiating said films from the likes of “Deep Throat” or “Debbie Does Dallas.” The first film to receive the rating, “Henry and June,” actually received an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. It was not a massive hit, but it wasn’t the kind of film that usually breaks out of the arthouse anyway. But then, the theater chains, the networks, and newspapers seemingly ruined the game plan.

Newspapers more or less unanimously stated that they wouldn’t carry advertising for NC-17 pictures. Major television networks refused to sell advertising to NC-17 films, and many major theater chains refused to book them for exhibition. And just like that, NC-17 was indeed the new ‘X’. With the exception of “Showgirls,” which ironically represented what everyone wrongly presumed about the NC-17 rating, films slapped with said label did not open in major theaters or participate in mainstream advertising campaigns. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. But it is. Regardless of what we think of this MPAA decision or that MPAA decision, the fact of the matter is that if theaters would carry these pictures and media outlets would readily accept advertising for them, this would all be a moot point.

To read more from this article go to Mendelson’s Memos.

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