Will “Shame” Change the Outlook on the NC-17 Rating?

It’s interesting how a lot of people are coming around to the NC-17 rating this year.  Last year it was going to be the kiss of death for ‘Blue Valentine’ and this year it was going to spoil any of the hopes and dreams that ‘Shame’ had.  In the last month or two though, things have changed.  You’re hearing a lot about bucking the NC-17 trend of failure at the box office and Oscars.  You’re hearing about legitimizing the rating, and how this could maybe be a good thing for film in general.  I’ve been saying it for a long time, but I’m glad it’s finally getting some mainstream traction.  Here’s what The Hollywood Reporter recently had to say:

Fox Searchlight’s Shame opens Dec. 2 with a restrictive NC-17 rating, but that may be a good thing for similarly classified films in the future.

National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) presidentJohn Fithian  tells the Associated Press that the Steve McQueen-directed drama “is potentially an important step in the legitimate use of the NC-17.”

“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 reveals that in a recent survey, 97 of 100 theater owners said they would play an NC-17 movie. He argues that filmmakers and studios should embrace, not fight, the classification, “What we currently have is a system that’s slightly flawed in the reluctance of filmmakers and distributors to use the NC-17.

“What they’ll do is cut and trim and try to cram a movie into the R rating category so that it escapes the NC-17, and that’s not a legitimate use of the system. We end up with a very broad R category.”

Box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian thinks Shame can capitalize on its uncommon status. He told AP, “R-rated movies are a dime a dozen. If Fox Searchlight can harness the power of the NC-17, they can turn it into a plus.”

The MPAA said that the drama earned the rating because of “some explicit sexual content,” which includes full-frontal nudity, oral sex performed on men and women, and group sex.

Joan Graves, head of the group’s ratings system arm, believes the “stigma” of NC-17 is due in part to negative press. She told AP, “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.”

“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,” Searchlight president Steve Gilula told The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”

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