In the words of a prominent industry group, a soon to be released movie is being used to “legitimize” the traditionally dishonorable NC-17 rating.
On December 2, Fox Searchlight and director Steve McQueen are releasing a film called “Shame” in which Michael Fassbender plays a sex addict. Numerous critics are predicting that the actor is a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination.
“Shame” has received an NC-17 rating, which theoretically restricts anyone under the age of 18 from attending. The rating that the film has been given is well deserved since it features full-frontal nudity, multiple partners, and implicit incest.
With its pornographic nature and base themes, it does not deserve to be displayed at the neighborhood multiplex.
The NC-17 was initially created by the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) in 1990 when pornography producers took over the “X” rating.
Hollywood executives have historically shunned the NC-17 designation, and studios and production companies have typically either appealed the rating to the MPAA or edited out offensive material in order to receive a more marketable R rating. However, Fox Searchlight, the studio that at the Toronto Film Festival acquired “Shame,” is embracing the NC-17 label.
"I think NC-17 is a badge of honor, not a scarlet letter. We believe it is time for the rating to become usable in a serious manner," Fox Searchlight's co-president, Steve Gilula, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Although the MPAA doled out the NC-17 rating to “Shame,” Joan Graves, head of the organization’s ratings department, holds the media responsible for the label’s “stigma.”
“I've always considered it a shame that for some reason some people consider it [a death sentence], and I blame the media in a way because they always act like it's gotten the kiss of death,” Graves explained to The Associated Press.
National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) president John Fithian told The Associated Press that the film “is potentially an important step in the legitimate use of the NC-17.”
It appears as though the NATO president is attempting to downgrade a system whose bar has already dropped precipitously low, further bludgeoning our beleaguered culture.
“There just aren't very many movies released in the NC-17 rating anymore. We get maybe one or two a year. Filmmakers and movie studios are inappropriately afraid of the rating,” Fithian said.
Fithian is, at a minimum, misguided. Filmmakers, studios, and the Academy in particular should have a healthy fear of getting too cozy with the porn industry.
"The sheer talent of the actors and the vision of the filmmaker are extraordinary. It's not a film that everyone will take easily, but it certainly breaks through the clutter and is distinctive and original. It's a game changer."
The most successful NC-17 film at the box office has been 1995’s “Showgirls,” which earned $20.4 million and a great deal of scorn from critics.
“We’re releasing it not because of [the rating], but perhaps in spite of it,” says, “We just think it’s a film that deserves to be seen.”
On the whole, the rating has been taken by smaller, art-house films. Recent NC-17 releases have included Bernando Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” (2004, Fox Searchlight), Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” (2007, Focus Features) and Pedro Almodovar’s “Bad Education” (2004, Sony Pictures Classics).
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