There could be an interesting conflict brewing in New York where IFC Center in Greenwich Village has declared that it will not impose the NC-17 rating for Abdellatif Kechiche’s three-hour long lesbian drama “Blue Is the Warmest Color”. In other words, it will allow in teenage viewers in violation of the rating. The case could force a confrontation over the voluntary system of ratings. This was a compromise with politicians and some groups that want to regulate films for obscenity or violence or sexual content. If theaters refuse to comply with the ratings, there may be a move to re-introduce legislation imposing direct government regulation — raising obvious free speech issues.
The theater will allow teenagers below the age of 17 to see the film. The company does not explain why it decided to challenge the ratings over this one film or how it will decide in the future to waive or apply the NC-17 standard.
John Vanco, senior veep and general manager of the IFC Center, simply said “it is our judgment that it is not inappropriate for mature, inquiring teenagers who are looking ahead to the emotional challenges and opportunities that adulthood holds.”
The company has stressed that the MPAA rating is purely voluntary and so it is not going to apply it in this case to allow more teenagers to see “Blue Is the Warmest Color”. The movie includes one segment that is a 15 minute lesbian sex scene.
On the other end of the spectrum, an arthouse in Idaho has decided not to screen the film due to obscenity laws that cover venues that sell alcohol.
Here is the current standard:
NC-17 – No One 17 & Under Admitted
This film is clearly adult and people under the age of eighteen are not admitted. Such films may contain brutality/pervasive extreme non-stop graphic violence, explicit sexual content, sexual assault, extreme horror, extreme emotional intensity, discrimination/bullying, crude situations, strong graphic non-stop language, disturbing/startling images, strong graphic drug use, alcohol, tobacco and/or aberrational behavior.
This standard is part of a compromise brokered by MPAA president Jack Valenti in May 1966 who opposed the earlier Hays Code. The voluntary standard took affect on November 1, 1968 with three organizations serving as its monitoring and guiding groups: the MPAA, the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), and the International Film Importers & Distributors of America (IFIDA).
If theaters are now going to waive the rating, it could revive demands in Congress for regulation. Senators like Joseph Lieberman have long called for regulation or censorship of games and music viewed as bad influences on our children. It will be interesting to see if they respond to this move in New York. Likewise, as reflected in the Idaho case, such decisions could revive obscenity prosecutions in more conservative states.
The imposition on audience restrictions raise serious concerns over censorship and the rights of free speech and association. However, states are given more authority in acting to protect the interests of children. What do you think about these voluntary or mandatory standards?