We reported last month that Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams’ upcoming drama Blue Valentine earned the rare (and oft damning) NC-17 rating from the MPAA. Since then, critics and fans who have seen the film have cried foul, and now Cinema Blend’s Katey Rich reports The Weinstein Company is lawyering up and fighting back.

The MPAA has been under a lot of fire recently for handing down R ratings to the docudramas The King’s Speech and Made in Dagenham citing curse words, and now laying down the box office murdering NC-17 rating on Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine for its supposedly explicit sex scenes. Never ones to back down from a fight, the Weinsteins are pushing for an appeal demanding The King’s Speech get a family-friendly PG-13 rating, and the love-on-the-rocks Valentine get an R. The press release full-on calls hypocrisy citing the MPAA’s tendency to let graphic violence slide by while sex and language looms large as public enemy number one. “While we respect the MPAA, I think we can all agree that we are living with an outdated ratings system that gives torture porn, horror and ultraviolent films the same rating as films with so-called inappropriate language,” explains Harvey Weinstein.

(Food for thought – Dark Knight is rated PG-13 despite truly ghastly imagery.)

Having seen the controversial Blue Valentine, I know that the sex scene(s) in question are far from visually harrowing, but are rather contextually heartbreaking. The film centers on the decay of a relationship, and sex is used to convey its descent. This drama portrays sex in a frank and unromanticized way rarely seen in American cinema. With all this in mind, I found the statements of the film’s stars to be compelling.

Williams said of the MPAA’s decision, “Mainstream films often depict sex and violence in a manner that is disturbing and very far from reality. Yet, the MPAA regularly awards these films with a more audience friendly rating, enabling our culture’s desensitization to violence, rape, torture and brutality. Our film does not depict any of these attributes. It’s simply a candid look at the difficulties couples face in sustaining their relationships over time. Blue Valentine opens a door for couples to have a dialogue about the everyday realities of many relationships. This film was made in the spirit of love, honesty and intimacy. I hope that the MPAA will hear our pleas and reconsider their decision.”

Gosling took it a step further, accusing the MPAA of sexism: “You have to question a cinematic culture which preaches artistic expression, and yet would support a decision that is clearly a product of a patriarchy-dominant society, which tries to control how women are depicted on screen. The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex. It’s misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman’s sexual presentation of self. I consider this an issue that is bigger than this film.”

In my humble opinion, these are strong arguments, but as anyone who has seen the shocking documentary about the secretive MPAA board (This Film is Not Yet Rated) knows, this is a group often deaf to reason. While it’s hard to say if the Weinsteins legal maneuvering will yield a positive reassignment, I’m hopeful this may be a tipping point in the way the MPAA rates movies. Seriously, when I can go see a movie where people are blown apart, have their faces ripped off, and a maniac repeatedly threatens to slice people from ear to ear, but the theater is filled with kids because there’s no blood (riddle me that reality), what does that say about the validity of the rating system?

I think that in a day and age where many of us forget to pay attention to ratings as soon as we turn 18, it’s easy to ignore the significance of the MPAA on the film industry. The simple truth is the lower the rating the wider your potential demographic. This leads to filmmakers dumbing down their projects to appease the conservative leanings of the MPAA to the potential deficit of the film itself. It leads to impressionable kids seeing movies that are chock-full of violence, but devoid of blood – like that’s not damaging. And it leads to poignant and mature films being treated like smut, which hurts their box office and thereby the likelihood of similarly complex movies hitting theaters. Basically, I see it as an issue worth getting riled about because I love movies.

The Weinstein Company is jockeying for the changes before the films’ releases at the height of award-season consideration, as both are expected to garner deserved attention.

The King’s Speech will open in the US on November 26, 2010. (Check out Jordan’s review here).

Blue Valentine will have a limited release on December 31, 2010, and expand nationwide in January of 2011.  (My review.)

What’s a MPAA rating you find shocking?

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