We love a bit of film classification chat here at Mild Concern. The whole idea of judging what age a person can be before they see a film based on the amount of sex, violence, and swearing absolutely fascinates me. We’ve previously looked at the specifics surrounding the age rating for Pulp Fiction, mused about racist remarks, and even tried to calculate the amount of blinking you need in order to use your eyelids as your very own censorship tool.
More importantly we had a proper look at the classification debate for Shame when it came out two years ago. In short the issue was that the film had been given an NC-17 rating in America due to its abundance of sex and nudity. NC-17 is essentially an 18 certificate and while in the UK an 18 for a grown-up film is not ideal but by no means a death sentence, in America there are cinemas that won’t even screen a film branded with the NC-17 label. Frequently films will work with the MPAA (the American film classification association) to edit their film to attain the much more consumer friendly R rating which allows anyone under 17 to see the film if they take an adult with them.
There is an argument for such cuts when a studio is looking to appeal for a mass market and need a lower certificate and yet the whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. When you cut a film not for artistic but for commercial reasons then you are in danger of ruining the vision of the piece for the sake of improving your profit margins. There is a fine line between offering advice on classification guidelines and out-and-out censorship. When you have the power to label a film with a black mark that will severely diminish it’s market value and you do so based upon a questionable moral code then you are essentially holding a film to ransom; if they don’t edit out the bits the MPAA doesn’t like then their movie won’t get seen by very many people.
Film is a murky world where artistic and commercial concerns collide and so often when it comes to a matter of getting an R or NC-17 rating then it is the money men that rule.
Just this week there have been two cases of
censorship editing as films strive to get themselves a friendlier rating. The first is the news that Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film The Wolf of Wall Street had been blessed with an R rating after the much lauded director agreed to trim down sex and nudity to avoid being branded NC-17.
In addition to this actress Evan Rachel Wood took to Twitter yesterday to complain about edits that had been made to her new film Charlie Countryman. It would seem that an earlier cut she had been shown included a scene of her receiving cunnilingus from a character played by Shia LaBeouf (soon to trouble censors in Nymphomaniac) but now the film is in cinemas the scene has been edited so that the film could avoid being rated NC-17. Here is what Wood had to say:
After seeing the new cut of #CharlieCountryman I would like 2 share my disappointment with the MPAA, who thought it was necessary to censor a woman’s sexuality once again. The scene where the two main characters make “love” was altered because someone felt that seeing a man give a woman oral sex made people “uncomfortable” but the scenes in which people are murdered by having their heads blown off remained intact and unaltered. This is a symptom of a society that wants to shame women and put them down for enjoying sex, especially when (gasp) the man isn’t getting off as well! Its hard for me to believe that had the roles been reversed it still would have been cut OR had the female character been raped it would have been cut. Its time for people to GROW UP. Accept that women are sexual beings. Accept that some men like pleasuring women. Accept that women don’t have to just be fucked and say thank you. We are allowed and entitled to enjoy ourselves. Its time we put our foot down. Thanks for listening.
I think Wood touches on what is by far the most concerning thing about the way classification and censorship is carried out. While we can probably agree that there needs to be some level of control on what various ages can see, and that studios are well within their rights to ruin a good film with cuts, there is a huge imbalance in what they think should be kept away from the eyes of the young. Violence is much acceptable in the mainstream than sex and nudity as images of hate are seen as far less harmful than images of love. Worse still is the patriarchal and misogynistic attitude that Wood is accusing the MPAA of possessing. She would not be the first as in 2010 it took an appeal for Blue Valentine to be lowered from NC-17 to R without removing its cunnilingus sequence. It certainly looks like there is an uneven policy at the MPAA when it comes to which gender is participating in sexual activity.
Film classification is an important part of the world of film, and something our own BBFC do with admirable transparency, but I find it hard to endorse any system that finds violence to be more acceptable than sex and runs scared when faced with an expression of female sexuality. Cinema is an art form and when edited to suit commercial interests is suffering from censorship plain and simple. In America the MPAA is a shadowy organisation that somehow has gained the power to ruin a film’s box office if the group does not approve of its contents. Unlike the BBFC the MPAA answers to no one and seems to decide for itself what is deemed acceptable.
Fight the patriarchy!
Fight for equal rights for oral sex!