MPAA Overturns NC-17 Rating for ‘Blue Valentine’

In a rare case of a successful appeal before the MPAA, the NC-17 rating initially slapped on Derek Cianfrance‘s Blue Valentine has been overturned. Harvey Weinstein personally appeared before the appeals board to plead on behalf of the film. The film will go out to theaters with an R rating.

The NC-17 was delivered because of a sex scene between Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams — one which, it must be noted, carries no trace of violence or other ‘objectionable’ content, but is merely somewhat graphic and emotionally raw. (Similar content passed in Black Swan, which garnered an R rating, and the comparison between the two scenes and relative ratings has added to the Blue Valentine controversy this week.)

Deadline reports that the appeal board’s decision to downgrade the film’s rating to an R was unanimous. But the R rating for The King’s Speech was upheld. The Weinstein Company hoped for a PG-13 for that film.

This is positive news for the film and for The Weinstein Company’s ability to broadly market the movie. (Make no mistake: that was at the core of Harvey Weinstein’s outrage over the rating.) But I have to wonder what this means for any future cases where a capricious MPAA hands out a similar rating to another film — there’s no incentive here for the board to change. Situation: defused. I won’t repeat the arguments often made about the MPAA’s inconsistency or the way that it treats films with violent content very differently from films with sexual situations. (David Chen has already printed an effective screed.)

The fact that we have a civilian board that enforces a rating system that is relatively free of censorship is a good thing. Consider countries with much more restrictive government-controlled and influenced censorship boards, and how they deal with films that have unfriendly cultural or political content. That isn’t something that filmmakers and distributors have to deal with in the US. Our filmmakers are not imprisoned for the content of their films, and police don’t raid the homes of people who privately screen banned films. For this we are thankful.

But there is much evidence that the MPAA is inconsistent (the ratings for Blue Valentine and Black Swan; issues with a new poster also cropped up) and may be disconnected from broad social and cultural values. If the board isn’t going to represent a core value system with consistency, then what’s the point?

(That argument goes for broadcasters and advertisers, too. The fact that violent films can be marketed like mad in mainstream outlets which will turn away from an NC-17 film like Blue Valentine is just as absurd as any other part of this minor controversy.)

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