Note: As of Wednesday, December 8th, the MPAA overturned its decision, giving Blue Valentine an R rating. I think the subject is still an important one, because it originally DID give the film an NC-17 rating before realizing that it was wrong. Weinstein himself appeared at the hearing to state his beliefs.
Blue Valentine (in theaters December 31st) stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a married couple with an imperfect relationship. You may not know that, but you probably know that the film has received an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (aka the MPAA) for a scene in which Gosling’s character performs oral sex on William’s character. If that is all you know about the film, I would highly recommend that you check out the trailer. This is a film that is getting a lot of Academy Award buzz, and yet this controversy may block it from reaching a large audience.
NC-17 is a bad rating for a film to have. Of course, at face value it means that only people seventeen and older can see the film in theaters. And yes, the rating itself may prevent a few wary people from seeing the film, but the problem goes beyond that. Many theaters have policies against showing NC-17 rated films, which makes it so much harder for these films to make money.
Harvey Weinstein, co-head of The Weinstein Company, which is the studio releasing Blue Valentine has been quoted saying that they will not be removing the scene from the film, but will be appealing the MPAA’s chosen rating. I loved his choice to compare the film to Piranha 3D, a much more over-the-top and raunchy film, which got an R rating without any problems.
The way that I see it, one force that may be at work here should really be looked into: sexism.
The first time I read about this controversy, I was instantly intrigued, just because of the implied sexism. I immediately thought of the tons of mainstream films with blowjob scenes that hardly anyone thinks twice about (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, anyone?). All of a sudden, the MPAA wants us to believe that a man performing oral sex on a woman is something that only people over the age of seventeen are prepared to watch, whereas every high school student has probably seen every Judd Apatow film that depicts a woman performing oral on a man in one way or another.
Gosling himself has been quoted discussing the sexism of the system, claiming that the MPAA overlooks much worse scenes of torture against women, even referring to the decision as “a product of a patriarchy-dominant society.”
But, to further complicate the situation, I recently saw Black Swan, which has a similar demographic to Blue Valentine. In Black Swan, there is a sex scene in which Mila Kunis is performing oral on Natalie Portman’s character, but the film immediately got an R rating. If you’re interested in this topic, the LA Times has a fascinating article, “Two films, two sex scenes, two different ratings,” that breaks down the differences between Black Swan and Blue Valentine. It’s quite possible that the reason for the different ratings is because Blue Valentine chooses a more realistic portrayal of its sex scene, which would mean that sexism is a less likely cause for the MPAA’s decision.
As a female who hopes to be a filmmaker one day, this is an issue that is truly interesting to me and I have been following the news on it for quite a while, much to my mother’s dismay (sorry for bringing it up during that dinner with your boyfriend, Mommy!). But, whether or not sexism is at work, the conclusion all around seems to be that MPAA has unfortunately inconsistent ratings. Blue Valentine is getting some Oscar buzz for Gosling’s and William’s performances, and with an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes so far, I hope that the film will find its way to a large audience despite the controversy. It really is a shame that a movie like Jackass 3D can make its way to just about every theater in the country, when there are quality films out there that are forced to overcome such ridiculous obstacles.
I would love to continue this conversation, so a few questions for the comments:
Do you think the MPAA’s decision has something to do with sexism?
Is the MPAA’s current rating system outdated?
What did you think of the trailer? Will you see Blue Valentine?